The viral power of memes

Shauna Power

On the surface memes may seem like nothing more than mindless diversions. In reality they are powerful units full of cultural and generational wealth, that can be used to promote politics, companies and numerous agendas.

It’s easier than ever to create and share content which has resulted in a vast amount of professional and amateur content available for everyone’s consumption. This makes it difficult to catch your audiences attention and many people have turned to visual content for this purpose.

It’s hard to describe what a meme is. Generally the definition of a meme today is anything that provides irony, sarcasm or laughter, according to complex.com. Memes can be an image, video or text based and can be reproduced or reinterpreted by others which sometimes leads to a completely different understanding of the message.

As recent as the meme trend may seem, the term ‘meme’ has actually been around for a long time. The term meme first appeared in Richard Dawkins’ first book, “The Selfish Gene” in 1976 and was an attempt to understand behavioural patterns in humans. The word ‘meme’ was taken from an ancient Greek word, “mimeme”, meaning imitated thing.

According to the Richard Dawkins website, Dawkins also referred to memes as “mind viruses”. The point he was making is that memes, like viruses, are indifferent to the welfare of their hosts and the only thing that counts is that they persist. 

Everyone loves a laugh and in the internet world there are few things that cause more laughter than memes. Anything and anyone can become a meme and sometimes being a viral meme can turn you into a celebrity.

Look at the ‘Roll Safe’ meme as an example. This meme comes from the 2016 BBC mini-documentary on the Hood Documentary series which saw the character Simpson pointing to his head and smiling after he says he finds a woman beautiful because she has good brains.

The ‘Success Kid’ meme began in 2007 and features a baby clenching a fistful of sand with a determined facial expression. Even though we feel like we know the subject of a meme, we know nothing about their life or who they are but we still feel connected through it. That’s the viral power of memes. 

Politicians have also started using memes in an attempt to become relevant amongst young voters. Memes work politically if they are widely shared and if they make a compelling statement about a public figure or political issue. 

During the 2016 US presidential election, the internet was rampant with memes. Memes surfaced about Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, Donald Trump making faces which continue to be brought to back to life through reproductions or re-captioning. 

As more and more time is spent online, memes have become the perfect way for spreading humour, information and opinion. Evolving from basic edited images to make people laugh into images capable of providing information to millions, memes have made their climb up the social ladder and are here to stay.

Shauna Power

Image credit: Flickr