The internet is truly a fascinating and peculiar universe of its own where one can find just about anything and everything under the sun with a click of a button. From instantly finding information to connecting people globally, to online shopping, to acquiring education, to remote working, to accessing entertainment, and to popularizing unique trends and pop culture that significantly shape our society. The latter brings us to our topic of discussion that has not only become a humorous expression but a universal language that brings the world together — memes.
Among all the impressive things that the internet has birthed, memes have remained at the top for their ability to evolve with current events. Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, coined the term meme back in 1976, which originated from the Greek word “mimeme and gene.” It is based upon the observation that “our ideas, ideals, cultures, and customs replicate themselves. Almost like a virus, they travel from person to person through imitation, sharing, and repetition. While all memes are ideas, not all ideas become memes because not all ideas are worth passing on or copying.”
Richard Dawkins, coined the term meme back in 1976, which originated from the Greek word “mimeme and gene”
It is believed that memes may have already existed prior to the digital age, most commonly seen in ruins and graffiti. A mythical character named Kilroy is known for its distinctive phallus-like nose that was popularized during WWII. Although its origins are unknown, the meme was believed to have been created by a shipyard inspector named James J. Kilroy, which used the graffiti as an indicator to mark bulkheads after inspection. It has since been used by many who drew it in places they went to during the war.
The first internet meme considered to have gone viral is none other than the “dancing baby” or “Baby Cha-Cha-Cha”, which was popularized by graphic designer Michael Girard in 1996. It was also used in the hit show Ally McBeal. In 2003, 15-year-old Chris Poole invented a website known as 4Chan that features an anonymous imageboard or forum where people can post images as the main form of content. This became the foundation of the memes we know today. The years that came after birthed the famous memes such as LOLcats, Pepe the Frog, Nyan Cat, Trollface, Success Kid, Doge, among others, which are commonly circulated around social websites such as Reddit, YouTube, 9GAG, 4Chan, and Know Your Meme.
Chris Poole invented a website known as 4Chan…where people can post images as the main form of content
While memes were initially used for political or cultural purposes, it has since evolved to make statements about lighter topics in regards to pop culture and sarcastic commentaries about life in general that make it an instant hit. One of the notable characteristics of memes that changed over the years would have to be the language used by manipulating the tenses and deliberately spelling the word incorrectly to easily get its intended humorous impression across.
Laughs for a Cause
While President Joe Biden’s inauguration was one for the books, what stole the show was Senator Bernie Sanders sitting comfortably in the audience that made him a living meme overnight. Watchful people found his so-called poker face, casual attire, and knitted mittens in one of the most momentous events in American politics, extremely hilarious. But more importantly, him appearing to be a typical citizen like us felt too relatable, which left an impression that made him an internet sensation. All jokes aside, Sanders’ team has put his meme into good use by selling various merchandise for a number of charities in Vermont, which has amassed approximately $1.8 million since its launch.
Apart from Sanders’ team, other companies and brands also took the initiative to use his memes to raise funds for charity. Getty Images has arranged a licensing agreement to put the meme on clothing and items, and all its sales will go to Meals on Wheels America as mentioned by the company. Burton Snowboards, the brand of Sanders’ coat he was sporting on that day, also donated their apparel to children and families on behalf of the senator. Another adorable and creative version of the meme was made by a Texas woman who crocheted a Bernie Sanders doll and has raised $40,000 at an online auction that will be donated to Meals on Wheels America. Sanders has been a long-time advocate and supporter of this charity, hence the downpour of support to the organization.
While the internet oftentimes gets a bad rap, there are also unexpected good things that come out of the superficial content or entertainment we come across every day. As evident in Sanders’ viral meme, it’s amazing how something as simple as that could powerfully influence and induce positive change in society.
No matter what form memes would take in the future, we should keep in mind that despite its ability to inspire, uplift, help, and bring the community together, some people would use it as a form of expression to hurt others or some jokes might not be well received by others. While it’s meant to strike some gags, we still need to use caution as to not cross lines or offend certain groups. If we keep utilizing the internet for the benefit of the greater good, we could make permanent changes that can gradually resolve conflicts and issues — memes and all.