Blended Brew: What is a meme?-A A +A
Monday, July 9, 2012
SAW this word online and have no idea what it is about? Read on this little entry by about.com, defining this online trend.
A meme is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. A meme (rhymes with “team”) behaves like a cold virus, traveling from person to person quickly, but transmitting an idea instead of a life form. According to Cecil Adams of thestraightdope.com, the concept of memes “is either really deep, or really, really obvious.”
Historically, a meme is a discrete “package of culture” that would travel via word of mouth, usually as a mesmerizing story, a fable/parable, a joke, or an expression of speech. Today, memes travel much faster than simple speech. As internet email forwards, instant messages, and web page links, memes now travel instantly via the Internet.
Most modern internet memes are humor-centered (e.g. Rickrolling, Ask a Ninja, Lolcats, Domo-kun, More Cowbell, Numa Numa Dance). Humor usually reaches the most people, and is the most attractive to forward to others. But many internet memes are also about shock value and drama (e.g. Angry German Kid, Dogs Go to Heaven).
Other memes are urban myths that tout some kind of life lesson (e.g. The Littlest Fireman, Mel Gibson and Man Without a Face, Kurt Warner). A few internet memes are about deep content, and involve social commentary and intellectual absurdity (e.g. Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russell’s Orbiting Teapot).
In a few cases, a meme can become a conversational expression as well as a viral curiosity (e.g. You Mad Bro). In every case, a package of culture or personal experience spreads between people in a virus-like fashion.
The majority of internet memes are transmitted by adolescents and post-adolescents. This is largely because these two demographics like to message, and have a playful curiosity about memes. But today, the average age of meme-transmitters has increased, as users over 30 years old discover the chuckles and humor about forwarding memes to their friends.
The “meme” word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in 1976. “Meme” comes from the Greek word “mimema” (meaning “something imitated,” American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.
The Internet, by sheer virtue of its instant communication, is how we now spread modern memes to each other’s inboxes. A link to a YouTube video of Rick Astley, a file attachment with a Star Wars Kid movie, an email signature with a Chuck Norris quote—these are a few examples of modern meme symbols and culture spreading through online media.
The bulk of internet memes will continue to be humor and shock-value curiosities, as these grab people’s attention more quickly than deeper meme content. But as users become more sophisticated in their thinking, expect memes to become progressively more intellectual and philosophical.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 10, 2012.