Meme is a cultural abbreviation that, like all forms of communication, evolves with those who use them. No one can claim to know or understand every single meme in existence. There are just too many, and they can often be too personal for the people who create and share them. Still, there are some general elements that can help you understand them.
What makes a meme a meme?
Even if memes seem impossible to understand, over the years you've likely come across at least one that made sense to you. Whether you've participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, have a mug that says "Keep Calm" on your desk at work, or ironically used the words "Fail" or "Winning", ironically or not, you have one Mem participated. You found out through word of mouth, you got it, you changed its context, and you appropriated it for your own use. And these are the key components of what makes a meme a meme.
While a full definition of a meme is difficult to pin down, most of the time the term is associated with an image or video depicting a particular concept or idea, which is then usually shared through online social platforms. This idea is spreading across social media, forums, instant messaging apps, and even news sites. The images and videos that get the message across are often changed and expanded upon during this process, often resulting in the original idea evolving into something completely different, or simply being re-labeled to make it a different form to represent.
Context can have a huge impact on what a meme means or how relevant it is to the recipient.
Memes can also convey a lot more information than simple text alone. In the same way that emoji have been used to convey complex ideas of mood or emotion, a meme can convey a complex idea, state of mind, or shared understanding much faster than writing and reading a written explanation of an idea.
From the dancing baby to the Momo Challenge
Some researchers have traced the idea of a meme back hundreds of years, but its modern interpretation is believed by most to be shaped by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He described the idea of a meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene as a cultural entity or idea that replicates, evolves, and is passed on from person to person. He couldn't have known it at the time, but that term was later used to describe an infinite number of permutations of different phrases, images, sounds, and videos, all of which were disseminated across the Internet to share ideas and thoughts quickly and concisely.
Most would consider the first internet meme to be the dancing baby. Sometimes referred to as "Baby Cha-Cha," the short GIF of an animated baby dance went viral in 1996. It was widely distributed through email chains and featured on popular TV shows such as Ally McBeal. It wasn't until the 2010s that memes became a cultural phenomenon in their own right. Today they are one of the main ways people communicate online, with millions of permutations of the most popular.
The memes that have come and gone over the years are too many to count and too diverse to cover in detail (although we have collected all of the most famous ones). But you could put anything from the planking to Good Guy Greg to the Momo Challenge on the list. Memes are incredibly diverse, constantly changing, and cannot be categorized into a neat and defined category.
The speed of their sharing and creation is also only increasing, so trying to learn or understand them all is an impossible task. But that doesn't mean we can't try to wrap our heads around the most important ones.
How to understand a meme
Some memes are easier to understand than others. The simplest ones are known as "picture macro" memes, which are usually an expressive picture and block text. They are emphatic and designed to help convey an emotional state in a way that is easy to understand. They acknowledge a shared experience between the creator and the viewer.
Others can be a little harder to nail. Something like Slender Man can seem scary or dangerous. Others may be bizarrely opaque and relate to a specific episode of a TV show or movie that aired decades ago. Often times, the origins of such memes can be buried in such a deep context that understanding their origins requires specific research.
How important this is depends on why you want to understand the meme. Often times, if you just want to use it yourself, getting the rough idea of what it means to get out of the latest usage is enough to create your own and get into the joke.
If you want to learn more about what this means so that you can determine if it's something you want your children, students, or loved ones to be associated with, the best thing to do is ask for more information. Helpful resources like Know your meme, You should have seen thatand even Wikipedia (for the most famous ones) can further clarify where a meme came from and how it evolved and evolved over time. However, it's important to note that memes are constantly changing. How the people you want to protect actually use these memes can be completely personal to them. They may even have a collection of their own memes that aren't that popular.
Most memes are designed to be funny and their impact depends on how they are perceived and used by the people who see them. If someone in your life sends out memes a lot or looks at memes that you just haven't received, we recommend that you ask them to describe what they mean to you. Then, if needed, you can give the broader meaning of what this might mean outside of the communication tools and platforms on which it grew.
Another option is to create your own memes if you are interested. Popular websites like ImgFlip and Kapwings meme maker are excellent places to start your new meme hobby. If you need additional assistance we have created A great guide to walk you through the process in a list of easy-to-follow steps.