Oh, where to begin. Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” (pronounced meem) back before I was born in 1976. It was his way of explaining how cultural information spreads.
An “Internet meme” follows this same concept but is specific to Internet culture. People usually think of Internet memes as pictures but they can be:
- A picture
- A phrase
- A hashtag
- A video
Here is a popular picture meme:
A popular phrase meme would be “all your base are belong to us”. This can be reconfigured to read anything, such as “All your ____ are belong to us” (insert word of choice). On Halloween you could say “All your candy are belong to us”. Why this one is (or was) popular is difficult to explain but if you are curious you can read about it on the Know Your Meme website here.
A popular hashtag meme may be something like #YOLO (you only live once). An example would be someone posting onto a social networking site something like “I went skydiving today #YOLO”.
Video memes would be Rick Roll.
There are also animated gifs and other types of memes out there.
I first remember seeing memes in the early 90s- not so much on BBSs, but more on usenet and in phrases on IRC. They have exploded in popularity in the 2007-2013 range, mostly in Internet forums, and now even on social networking sites.
Some marketing professionals now use them in their blog posts (guilty) to create a buzz, or attempt to use them as viral marketing.
I personally spend a lot of time online and see memes daily. Sometimes I forget that the “real world” has no idea what memes are (giving me a reason to write this article). Reality hit me one day when I went to an event in 2012 called the “Dolphin Dip”. This is an event that takes place on New Year’s Day, and thousands of people run into the cold ocean. There is also a costume contest. Most people wore a creative costume. I had some cardboard lying around and decided it would be funny to go as the “I am The Table” meme, which was popular at the time (online anyways). Standing on stage in front of thousands of people I stood wearing my swimsuit and a table with a hole cut in it for my head to poke through. Yes, this was very silly. Of the thousands of people in front of me, 0 knew what a meme was, but they all knew who Metallica was, so I briefly tried to explain, and when I said the word Metallica I got a few cheers. Multiple news crews interviewed me. (Yes, my 15 seconds of fame was basically me standing around on a beach dressed as a table.) One impressed woman came to ask me if I was a “one night stand”, but otherwise, most people thought it was kind of silly.
The “I am The Table” meme started when Metallica and Lou Reed collaborated on a song called “The View”. In the song, towards the end, you can hear James Hetfield repeatedly singing “I am the table”. This, in turn left many coming up with mixed reactions and people being silly and trying to determine if the lead singer was actually a table or not. For the curious: more on this meme from Know Your Meme.
Anyways, that is what an Internet meme is.
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