Pop Culture

Memes Are Fun, Memes Are Powerful

Bathroom breaks are prime time for meme-scrolling.
Bathroom breaks are prime time for meme-scrolling. Photo by Kate McLean
A digitized baby— a 3D baby, dancing to Blue Swede's oogachaka, oogachaka. How amusing. Gerald really is the office jokester—I can think of at least 15 people to email this too. Circa 1996.

Look at these ridiculous cat pictures and the dumb stuff that comes out of their mouths. “I can has Cheezburger?!” They call it lolspeak. Just hilarious. Where does Gerald find this stuff? I can think of at least 15 people to text that too, or maybe I’ll post it on my Facebook feed. Circa 2007.

Fast forward ten years later—Where is Gerald? He’s been in the bathroom for five minutes.

Gerald is fine. Gerald has his pants down and is crushing memes on his Instagram feed, firing off only the most side-splitting to his friends, family, and maybe a co-worker or two.

“If it’s Baby Yoda, I don’t give it the time of day,” says Logan Castro, who prefers video game and bartending memes. Castro admits that over the course of a day when he isn’t working, he typically spends a little under two hours flipping from one meme to the next, taking about 15 seconds to marinate on the ones he likes. “The more relatable they are, the longer I appreciate them,” he says.

“If it has too many words, it’s probably not going to grab anyone’s attention, it has to be short—and relatable,” confirms James Sendejo. Sendejo, who works as a ramp agent for an airline company (he prefers not to name which one), says whenever there is down time in between flights he’ll scan Reddit for memes and then forward the ones he likes to his friends via text or Instagram.

Instagram. Twitter. Reddit. Facebook.

Depending on what meme accounts you follow, feeds on any of these platforms can be tailored to provide an unending and constantly updated buffet of snapshots paired with a quirky tagline.

The creator of Houston Memes (who prefers not to give his or her name or gender), has been creating and sharing Houston-specific memes since 2015. Though the account has only 1,806 Instagram followers compared to its 20,000 on Facebook, the creator sees Instagram as a better vehicle because of how easy it is to read and share. “A successful meme is something everyone can relate too—that sometimes they don’t really notice. Subconscious things we do in our lives.”

While for the most part Houston Memes posts light-hearted content, the creator did say they received an offended comment from a photo of a group of young, white professionals at a bar attached to the tagline, “Meanwhile on ‘White Oak.”

In all his scrolling, Castro confirms that some memes can definitely be outrageous in a negative way. “Some of them are pretty bad, pretty dark, gilding the lily on racism— or blatant disrespect of important figures, historic figures, religion.” Often times, he says, these accounts are “request to follow” only or their content is deleted soon after. “I feel like you have to know the boundaries. Sometimes they are funny, but sometimes it’s like, aw, man, that was really distasteful, and you scroll past.”

Memes can be powerful.

Remember how crazy they made Hillary Clinton look in the 2016 Presidential election? Those awkward facial expressions are hard to forget. And now, look at candidates like Mike Bloomberg, who isn’t exactly shy about dropping serious coin on the biggest meme-makers in the industry.

Followed by over 15 million people, the account FuckJerry posted a screenshot of Bloomberg sliding into his DM’s requesting, “Can you post a meme that let’s everyone know I’m the cool candidate?” When the meme-maker responded with, “Ooof that will cost like a billion dollars.” Bloomberg’s only reply was, “What’s your Venmo?”

Full disclosure, the post was tagged as “#sponsored by @mikebloomberg,” but it did serve the purpose of peeling back a layer of the Bloomin’ onion in how he knows exactly how important it is to fish in the 62-million-strong Millennial pond. But just because he knows how and where to fish, doesn’t mean they’ll bite.

Millennials (1981-1996) and Generation Z’ers (1995-2012), are brutal when it comes to comedy. We will roast ANYTHING and EVERYONE. And for that matter, the next time a team of zoo workers decides to have a dart party on a gorgeous western lowland gorilla innocently playing with a three-year-old boy that falls into his cage, well, then you can expect us to immortalize that ape martyr too. R.I.P. Harambe.

The Bloomberg posts were catchy—but, much more fun is being made of Bernie Sanders, and through no effort of his own. Though the term “meme,” coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins back in 1976 (he’s still alive), is a much more expansive term than the current example of the generic photo of Sanders “once again asking for you to—”, replacing “your financial support,” with endless variations like “Run your food” or, “A side of ranch,” it does serve as the perfect example of Dawkin's definition of meme.

There is no such thing as a “successful” meme. A meme is already successful because it has spread.

In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins argues that the cultural equivalent of a gene is a meme, and defines it as an idea spread by cultural means aka it goes bonkers viral, mate. Dawkins links this transference of ideas, which in 2020 can now happen within minutes, to evolution.

In the Vice article, “Richard Dawkins Told Us What He Thinks About Memes—and then it got weird,” he says, “The internet uses just one tiny example of a meme. A meme is a much more general concept than that. But the internet is a very fertile ecosystem for the spread of memes.”

You can say that again.

According to a social media behavior study done by YPulse, a company that does actionable research on Millennials and Generation Z, 75 percent of 13-to-36-year old’s share memes. In their Talk the Talk trend report, it revealed that just as many look at memes to make them smile or laugh.

Is the seemingly manageable overload of meme culture in our daily life happening because younger age groups are, ahem, funnier? Do we value laughter more? Do we crave it? Are we addicted? Is that why we generate things at mach speed to make us hahahahaha back and forth at each other?

Here is where it gets good: if you shoot the phase, “Do Millennials laugh more,” into the Google search engine, look what pops up: The Guardian, August, 2019, “Horrifyingly absurd: how did millennial comedy get so surreal?” or The Washington Post, August, 2017, “Why is millennial humor so weird?” or New York Magazine, February, 2012 “Millennials Just Wanna Laugh.”

(Turns around slowly in a bean bag office chair with a Starbucks Matcha Green Tea Latte in hand to reveal a sickening smile.)

Haha. You got us. We are dark.

Now, calm your tits, seats and tray tables up, because according to the PEW Research Center, Millennials “[Are approaching] Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation in the electorate.” And we will land this plane wherever we feel like it. Today it might be Mykonos, tomorrow, who knows, maybe socialism.
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