Meme What You Say

They’re no doubt old news by now, but our current bout of self-quarantine and the consequent surge in screen time has given me an appreciation for the novel medium of the meme.  Memes are the visual one-liners which abound on the internet, the pithy combinations of image and text which have become our postmodern equivalent of editorial cartoons, t-shirt slogans, propaganda posters, and standup comedy.  Researchers however, have discovered that memes existed as far back as the medieval era:

behold the field

Memes have been crafted by countless users for endless purposes – not all of them, or maybe even not most of them, socially constructive – but they are nonetheless some of the purest representations of Twenty-First Century thought.  No other expressions today can so closely track the labyrinthine trails of allusion, recognition, and memory worming through contemporary consciousness, and no others are funnier.

Here are some oldies but goodies:

Envy

basement

 

oh-your-band-has-a-bus-thats-cool-mine-doesnt-4190832

There are many meme variants, but their fundamental construct is a juxtaposition of words and picture that instantly conveys an idea in a social-network-friendly way; the best memes are comprehensible enough to be understood in an instant of scrolling or surfing but clever enough to make us linger over them for an extra few seconds.  Sometimes text alone does the job, especially if the font or the background imparts an ironic spin:

porn site

pun

 

Yacht

 

Inspirational

As a history buff, I can appreciate these succinct lessons about geopolitics and culture:

Poland

 

church woman

 

Boomers

 

British empire

 

Nazi scientist

Other memes comment on current news.  Note the frequent absence of proper punctuation, which somehow makes them funnier

Cosby

 

Americans

 

SPR

 

college fees

 

 

Time traveler

 

 

toilet paper

As you can see, many memes rely on familiar motifs from pop culture (movies, shows, ads), which, in our media-saturated environment, has become a kind of universal lexicon.  Often you’ll see the same still shot used for multiple and increasingly self-referential memes:

Dos Equis keys

Dos Equis motorhead

Dos Equis fart

Dos Equis text

Dos Equis cat

Some memes, meanwhile, are no more than verbal quips or puns transposed to a digital news feed, yet their simplicity aligns perfectly with the visual grammar of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram:

erasers

 

present

Even the most offensive memes (I haven’t shared them, but believe me, they’re out there) reveal something about the nature of dark humor.  Amusement, like fear or arousal, is an involuntary response – we laugh even when we know we shouldn’t.  Some types of meme and other comedy rely on exactly that quality, whereby the joke is not so much in the surface content but in its being offered as a joke at all, so that you crack up before the moral or logical implications of the setup sink in.

This one, for example, is fraught with political significance:

Bush-Trump

And others are clear products of kid / stoner / gross humor, which is timeless:

4 degrees

 

bugs bunny

 

cat food

 

gaming

 

Club Penguin

 

giraffe

 

party

 

KFC

Of course, memes epitomize the accelerated, attention-deficient aesthetic of the internet generally.  Memes provoke a quick snicker; they don’t present a reasoned argument or a deep thought, e.g.:

Jimmy Fallon

But the language of memes – the way they communicate at a single glance complex layers of sarcasm which previous generations would have to laboriously spell out – is the latest vindication of Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message.”   We live much of our lives online now, so our collective sense of humor has migrated there too.  Indeed, Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein saw it coming:

Einstein

Lincoln

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s