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The History of Internet Memes

More than often, it feels like the world is falling apart giving us only despair and suffering. In our world of chaos, there are only a couple of things that are good and free. And memes are definitely on top of that list.

We are so used to the never ending stream of jokes and dankness, that it seems almost impossible to think of a time when memes weren’t flooding our feeds. One can not simply pinpoint when or how the whole craze began, but we sure have come a long way since Star Wars Kid, Dramatic Chipmunk and Numa Numa.

Although one of the essential ingredients to a good meme is it’s ‘freshness’, it seems that the actual term itself is not that new. In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the word in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’, to explain cultural information movements. And, it only took a couple of decades for the Internet to appropriate it for all things viral, funny and random.

The first Internet memes were primary spread through email and websites like 8chan, Reddit and Tumblr. In 2008, rage comics started making the rounds, with other websites picking up the popular comic strips that depicted everyday situations.

Compared to passive media such as television, radio or print, memes give a creative license to users. Anything or anyone could be meme-able, you just have to make it funny enough. In 2010, the high popularity rise of ‘Advice Animals’ created a whole subcategory of customisable memes. Advice Animals often feature a colour wheel background, along with text that represents the respective archetype of the character. Some examples include Socially Awkward Penguin, Overly Attached Girlfriend and Philosoraptor.

As more internet users became meme literate, many other subcategories, parodies and versions emerged. Slowly crafting the meme universe that we currently live in. Today, memes are everywhere and anywhere. Institutions and brands have realised the potential of a good crispy meme to promote their messages too. One of the biggest examples being Gucci’s latest online campaign: #TFWGucci.

Truth is, memes are not just jokes anymore, they are a social phenomenon. Academic research into the fine art of memeing is happening, and American universities are offering a ‘Meme Studies’ majors. Because really, no one can deny it anymore, memes are love, memes are life. 

Header image via knowyourmeme.com

 

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