In his 1976 book,The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins defined and described memeticsas the way cultural information spreads from person to person(Internet Meme). It is from thisdefinition thatMark Godwin appropriated the term memeas representative ofa visual genre of Internet discourse (Godwin), reducing and shaping the term to contemporary status: streamlined and ideological memes,such as acute grumpy cat telling you who to vote for, or perhaps throwing you a condescending look while judging youfor consuming a meal you bought at McDonalds. An Internet meme is thusa seemingly harmless visual combination of words and images constructed from both popular and obscure media. Under the surface though, memes are much more than the jokes shared between individuals over the Internet. Memes have the ability to affect our youth and culture; they have attracted and been used in combination with big business and become a phenomenon unto themselves; they have shaped political landscapes over the past five years;and their use of images, words and phrases from popular culture have made their influence all the more inviting and gratifying. Memes are usually created anonymously and shared throughout various social media. Utilizing different tactics of visual communication, they are representative of a universally understood reality that compels groups of people into thinking and discussing relevant issues.
The Internet was fresh, new, and novel in 1996. It was created with the intention of being utilized as a communications instrument, which eventually extended out of its use in college campuses and became part of the mainstream discourse. This powerful new tool allowed people to share ideas and information, gather and communicate, and of course, still its largest use today, distribute pornography. The birth of the Internet meme can be traced back,oddly enough, to the three-dimension ally rendered animated baby dancing the cha-cha to the introductory melody of the song “Hooked on a Feeling.”Though simple by the standards in popular media today, the animation garnered much attention and became a phenomenon via Internet sharing in the late 1990s, or as referred to in popular discourse, it “went viral”. It became so popular that it was a feature on the television show, Ally McBeal .
By the early 2000s,picture manipulation software was more advanced and available at a consumer level, allowing people to utilize different forms of advertising tactics to communicate ideas.Many chose, for whatever reason, to advertise concepts and ideas utilizingvarious images of cats. With the advent of new technology allowing forwarding, texting and instant messaging of content from computers, PDAs, and cellular phones to social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, memes have experience dexponential growth. To an outside observer, at the rate that they are created and distributed, it would seem that memes are assembled at an alarming pace.
Contemporary Internet groups use words such as“viral” to describe the rapid spread of information. It is appropriate given the nature of how Internet memes are spread from person to person. They are like an unstoppable viral agent that unceremoniously infects social media networks. With the heightened and increased use and visibility of social networking sites, memes, and with them, opinions, expressions, and ideas have spread exponentially. They often permeate internationally in less than 24 hours after the event of importance on which they are based and created.Memes themselves are typically comedic or satirical in style and made in a quick single image or animated gif form, which makes them easy to read and very quickly consumed. It doesn't take long to process the information one may first take in, but they also work on multiple layers, given the viewer, and this is the genius behind them.
Mitt Romney was a meme target during the 2012 presidential race.One example of this is the popular Bane mask meme. Superficially, he is portrayed as a villain, imposed with the antagonist Bane's breathing mask from The Dark Knight Rises movie. This is representative of a collision between two cultural phenomena to form a single statement.The Dark Knight Rises. The complexity to being portrayed as this villain works within multiple layers. Bane refers to himself as a self-proclaimed liberator of Gotham City, all the while activating a time bomb that will eventually go off and kill the entire population. Bane, then, is a liberator not in the traditional altruistic sense, but a liberator of humans being removed from their living, breathing, physical lives. With the meme audience having knowledge of this false front, a new meaning to the usage of the Bane mask and Romney’s political views is brought to focus and considered for analysis.
The content of memes often varies from one political extreme to the other, often to ridiculous and polarizing points of view. Memes therefore represent an amalgamation of ideas and culture in a hyper-form, which makes memes individually comprise aquick and easy way to intake information that is relevant to that particular moment in time.Memes are not a staticphenomenon, but have evolved into an actively collaborative style of communication in the form of the performative meme. These memes encompass performing a particularly relevantsatirical cultural act, and embody much more thansimply producing an image intendedfor visual consumption. All over the globe, individuals interested and partaking in the meme phenomenon are photographing themselvesperforming particularly strange stunts and posting them to social media to share with others. One popular form of this genre of meme is referred to as “planking", an activity that involves a person being photographed lying on his or her stomach in often strange locations, some even dangerous; a young Australian man plummeted to his death after attempting to plank on his seventh story balcony(Australian Dies). Plankingis often seen by the large demographic as ludicrous, arbitrary, and as a cry for attention. In reality it is symbolically important, especially to the meme movement, as it literally involvesutilizing the body in such a way that strips away unique human characteristics to fully integrate human anatomy into the surroundings. Performative memes are an important evolutionary step for the movement in that they represent more than just an intellectual sharing of ideas. The body is the main focus in the activity of planking, in a way eliminating the human emotive element and utilizing the physical body as an object interacting with the environment. The physical human body is reduced to the purpose it may serve within an environment without external human motives and forces driving it. The body navigating throughout the urban landscape is now an integrated force, pushing a social singular collective that encompasses one consciousness.
Memorable visual historical icons are defined through the cultural experiences and products spawned by events and inhabited bythem, such as World War II in the 1940s, rock 'n roll in the 1950s, the sexual revolution in the 1960s, and disco in the 1970s. These historical eras and the imagery they spawned and are associated with, have a strong visual uniqueness that is at once recognizableand relatable to the human understanding of history and time. Contemporary cultural symbols are now found online and shared by aninternational collective community that is constantly growing in social cohesion and becoming ever more close-knit as the global international distance between individuals becomes smaller.The Internet is at present a significant fraction of our daily lives and furthermore, is not dissimilar to television and music in the way that Internet culture influences popular media. The meme is a product of the fractionthat has both migrated outside of and integrated itselfwithin particular knowledge-audience in the realm of popular culture topics. Memes have, since their inception, due to international penetration and the use of satire and humour, garnered a large base fascination, allowing a wider scope for impact. While the popularity of the Internet meme may seem to be a difficult phenomenon to grasp, it most certainly ensconces the social commentary encoded within layers upon layers of meaning. It is difficult to predict the next form that memes will take and how their importance in society and culture will evolve and change. The meme no longerneeds to centre onany particular event or issue, instead shaping language and humor to create a cultural connection that can be universally reshaped and centred to suit any individual experience.