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Let’s talk about memes.  A meme (pronounced ‘meem’) is defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” and “an amusing or interesting item… or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.”  The word was coined in Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene but it wasn’t too well-known until the explosion of the internet.  In 1993, in the June issue of Wired, Mike Godwin proposed the concept of the Internet meme and a cultural phenomenon was born.

 

what do you meme board game / big block letters of text in shades of blue and purple on a pure white box.Memes are everywhere; you have to essentially live in the middle of nowhere, with no access to modern electronics or other people, to not have come across a meme recently.  They range from the original LOLcats (yes, you can has cheeseburger), to Britain’s 1939 Keep Calm and Carry On campaign brought back in the early 2000s, to completely surreal art like the Youtube Poop videos.  They pop up on every social media site, they’re used in commercials (usually long after the meme ceased to be relevant), and they can cause global crazes like planking and the ice bucket challenge. Heck, memes are so popular, recognizable, and adapatable, they are have been turned into a party game.

 

bart simpson standing in a classroom before a blackboard with a piece of chalk in his hand. the black board has the phrase "all your base are belong to us" repeated ten times Personally I’ve been online a long time, back to the days of All Your Base Are Belong to Us (20 years old this year!), Domo, Oogachaka Baby, and—sigh—The Hamster Dance.  I’ve been Rickrolled so many times I recognize the ‘XcQ’ in the Youtube URL, but I usually click it anyway because I actually like the song.  The songs ‘levan polkka’ and “Dragostea Din Tei” are better known to me as, respectively, Leekspin and Numa Numa.  However, memes outside the Internet have existed for even longer, though they might not have had as global a reach.  Folklore, clapping games, obscene graffiti, “Kilroy was here”, and that weird angular S that everyone draws in elementary school even though no one knows where it originally came from?  All memes.

 

20-minute or less meme hacks by Sheela Preuitt / a yellow tone stick figure and a photograph of five multi ethnic children frame with 8-bit frames against a purple backgroundSo what makes a meme, especially in the age of the internet?  Well… anything, really.  Take an image, slap some text on it of varying degrees of absurdity, and see if the internet likes it.  It can also be a saying, a reference to a movie, or a meme within a meme within a meme.  I’m sure plenty of people with specialized degrees have tried to explain memes, but I feel it’s somewhat hard to explain why I laughed until I wheezed at a self-portrait of 18th-century artist Joseph Ducreux with the text ‘Oh hot reservoir/This is my jelly’ over it.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with Monty Python and enjoy surreal humour; maybe it’s just because the first principle of comedy is surprise.  Either way, kids can try their hand at creating their own memes with a little help from 20-Minute (or Less) Meme Hacks by Sheela Preuitt.

 

two images stacked on top of one another. the top photo is of actor sean bean as boromir from the film The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship of the Ring, captioned with "one does not simply walk into morder". the lower picture is of actor Hayden Christensen playing Anakin Skywalker in the film Star Wars The Revenge of the Sith, standing in front of a flowing lava field, with the caption "you underestimate my power." Memes concerning celebrities and pop culture are, naturally, quite popular.  Sean Bean - as Boromir from Lord of the Rings – telling the viewer that one does not simply walk into Mordor became so popular that Google put it into their map system as an Easter egg when trying to get walking directions to Mordor (sadly it doesn’t seem to work anymore).  Other examples include Woman Yelling at Cat (a combo meme featuring Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast members juxtaposed with a puzzled-looking white cat called Smudge), Sad Keanu, Strutting Leo, and recently, Bernie Sanders and his inauguration mittens.  And fortunately, sometimes memes can be used for good: merchandise referencing the Sanders meme has helped to raise money for organizations for seniors, dogs, and LGBTQ+ youth.

 

Because he's jeff goldblum by Travis M. Andrews cover / a drawn caricature of actor jeff goldblum wearing an orange suit, in front of a blue fieldOne celebrity who often makes an appearance in memes is Jeff Goldblum, star of Jurassic Park and some other less important stuff. Jurassic Park spawned at least three memes featuring Jeff Goldblum: You Did It; Life, Uh, Finds a Way; and, of course, Shirtless Ian Malcolm.  There’s even a melodica version of the Jurassic Park theme song, played over the scene where they first see the dinosaurs, that was briefly viral and still makes me laugh helplessly before I even hit play… but back to Jeff Goldblum. In May, the book Because He’s Jeff Goldblum by Travis M. Andrews will be released, detailing Goldblum’s life and just why he’s so memeable.

 

There’s so many memes out there that a single blog can’t possibly do more than scratch the surface.  I could, in fact, write an entire blog just about loss.jpg and how the sequence of characters | || || |_  actually means something to me.  There are entire Tumblr essays about how memes can be combined and build on each other into a memeception that would make absolutely no sense to anyone not into that particular culture at that particular time.  Perhaps that’s what makes memes so enduring as a whole, even if the majority of individual memes explode and die in weeks or even days: the versatility of putting text on an image and seeing if it makes other people laugh.

 

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