The word “meme” was originally coined by evolutionary biologist Charles Dawkins, according to Definitions.net. The site informs its readers that Dawkins first introduced this term in his book “The Selfish Gene” in an attempt to explain how cultural information spreads within a culture.
Dawkins derived the term from the Greek word mimeme meaning, “that which is imitated.”
In a biological context, information is transmitted through genes. “In a living organism, the transmission of heritage is through your genes,” said Plattsburgh State Professor James Liszka.
“They say that when information is transmitted in a culture, they call that unit a meme. It’s a basic unit of culture that gets transmitted,” Liszka said.
Internet memes fit Dawkins definition of the original meme, they just spread via the Internet. “An internet meme is an idea, style, or action which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet, as with imitating the concept,” stated by Definitions.net. The site notes that one can consider a meme to be a mimicked theme and can come in the form of a photo, video, image, or hashtag.
Why then are these internet memes so popular? For starters, they’re comical and satirical. For reasons similar to our love for shows like “Family Guy” and “South Park”, memes effectively combine humor and criticism to mock everyday aspects of human life and culture.
“Everybody likes to laugh and with memes you do just that,” said Amanda Allen, PSUC senior. “You’re laughing and showing your friends the meme.”
And just like “Family Guy” and “South Park”, the context of memes, or the photos, can come from a serious situation or event that is then exaggerated or mocked humorously so readers laugh even when they feel that they shouldn’t be.
“When it comes to certain memes,” Allen said, “the pictures are a serious matter, but we take it and use it as a joke. They’ll be so bad, but so funny.”
Secondly, memes are very relatable. Allen says there’s a meme out there for everyone, every group and every situation. The seemingly infinite amount of memes describe life for different cultural groups. There are memes made to describe life on campus that only college students would understand or memes one would get only if they watched a certain show, grew up in a specific city or identified with a certain ethnic background.
“Memes help bond people in certain cultures,” said Wileen Wilmore, PSUC junior and music major. Wilmore goes on to describe memes that were made to describe life in a black household or life in high school as a bonding tool for those groups that have experienced or identify with these aspects of life.
“They makes us realize that our upbringings are so similar to one another,” Allen added.
If there isn’t a meme to describe a certain concept, there are now meme-generating websites and apps where it can be created. And the fact that it’s super easy to create a meme is another explanation for this phenomenon. Memegenerator.net was the first meme-generating website created where people can go create their own memes. The only items needed are an idea, a photo, a caption and internet connection.
Not only are they easy to create, memes are also easily transmissible. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, provide multiple ways to share memes with friends. The most popular methods include screenshotting the photo and sending it to a friend, reposting the meme to your profile or tagging your friends in the comments section of the original post.
On campus, memes are even being used as flyers to promote club meetings and events. PSUC senior and gender & women’s studies major Christina Stile said the organization she’s a part of, Women in Leadership, once used a meme to promote their annual Vagina Monologues event.
Allen, Wilmore and Stile agree that the best part of memes, aside from the humor, is this new and indirect way of connecting with your friends.
“We don’t realize how much we’re bonding through memes,” Wilmore said, “but on the negative, we’re not using the traditional way of connecting with people either. It’s all through social media now.”
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