Giving our culture "meme-ing"

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By Logan Weeter

I’m sure you’ve all been on campus at some point, walking through the Quad when you heard someone, somewhere let out a hearty “What are those!”. Maybe you’ve had a friend respond to your homework frustrations with a squat and a “Just do it!”

Be it your feed on Vine, or the most obscure and meta inside joke on a Reddit page, memes have become a prominent part of our generation. It’s time we start to acknowledge and distinguish the effect that meme culture has on us through its rapid spread in social media and the connections it makes with people on scales ranging from our campus community to the entire world.

The other day I was participating in an event with a few theatre registered student organizations, and a woman took a very opportunistic leap with the song being played, and replaced one of the lyrics with a very loud “JOHN CENA!” The entire room broke into hysterics, and through the newly found common interest, conversations started and everyone there, including myself, made a few friends that day. In that moment, people made real bonds over a simple joke on the Internet.

Though memes now commonly apply to an “inside joke” throughout the Internet, their origins exist in earlier years of psychology. In his psychology book, “The Selfish Gene,” ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer Richard Dawkins first coined the term “memes” by describing them as ideas that “propagate themselves…by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.” http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/selfishgene-dowkins.pdf

Dawkins tells us that a meme is nothing more than information; it is an idea that spread through the minds of the masses. At the rapid pace at which social media is evolving with short attention span apps like Snapchat and, primarily, Vine, small bits of information spread faster than ever. Since this is the information to which we as young students attach our attention, it’s what we have come to refer to as memes.

Freshman in the College of Engineering, and self-proclaimed “Memelord,” Daniel Keller, says that memes not only unite people, but can actually develop different types of social circles.

“Look at different types of cliques, and you’ll undoubtedly see that they know memes, but the types of memes they like will probably differ,” Keller said. “People who know more mainstream trends will bond over memes like ‘What are those!’ and The Whip, but people who spend more time on Internet sites like Reddit and Tumblr may appreciate more obscure memes, like the Rare Pepe and Shrek.”

The former memes exist primarily on social apps like Vine and include catchphrases and dances, while the latter “dank” memes are generally pictures that carry an unspoken joke built up by the community. This is yet another example of how heavily the concept of a meme has been implanted in our minds as a community.

We as a millennial generation have been told time and time again by our elders how differently (for better or worse) we think and behave — and there’s a lot of truth to that. Culture is something that’s forged through experiences and phenomena dealt with as an entire people. With the speed of the Internet, these experiences can be shared with entire countries or the entire world within seconds.

Culture is becoming something exchanged globally thanks to memes, making aspects of our culture related not to where we come from, but where we go online. An American citizen around our age could more than likely make fast friends somewhere as far as Australia with a simple phrase from the Internet, and I think that’s beautiful.

Since they’ve surfaced in popular culture, people have treated memes like a silly and quirky phenomenon that’s no more than a trend in society. But one way or another, memes are here to stay, and it’s time that people acknowledge and embrace meme culture as something that has successfully integrated into human culture as a whole. 

Logan is a freshman in LAS.

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