Internet Memes

Internet Memes

Lars Konzack (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch371
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Background

An Internet meme is defined as a motif that is virally disseminated through the Internet. The motif often undergoes lots of variations (mash-ups) and may consist of sound, picture, movie clip, game and written text, or as is mostly the case, a combination by two or more modalities. Moreover the motif can be connected to only one of these modalities but need not be and in such case may enter different kinds of modalities.

It is difficult to pinpoint the first Internet-meme. One could argue that the emoticon introduced as the smiley in September 19th 1982 with all the variations of the theme is in fact the first Internet meme (Rosenträger, 2008).

The term meme stems from Richard Dawkins controversial work The Selfish Gene referring partly to gene and partly to mimeme, which means to imitate. In his use of the term it is considered as any cultural idea or behavior such as fashion, language, religion, science and sports – cultural DNA reproducing itself (Dawkins, 1976). It is unclear whether Richard Dawkins comprehends the meme as an objective structure, or a metaphor for cultural practices. However, recent use of the term of Internet meme has outgrown Richard Dawkins and has become a phenomenon in its own right (Stryker, 2011). According to Mole Empire the ten most famous Internet memes as of 2011 are as follows Keyboard Cat, Three Wolf Moon, Om Nom Nom, Auto Tune, The David After Dentist, Penaut Butter Jelly Time, Christian Bale Rant, Fail, O RLY, and Numa Numa (Smith, 2011). While this of course is by no means based on real academic research, it still gives a clue as to what these Internet memes are.

A more systematic approach comes from Know Your Meme (http://encyclopediadramatica.se) although it requires skill to understand the in-jokes and to select the right bits of information and knowledge about Internet memes. However, with the skill to comprehend Encyclopedia Dramatica, there is indeed information as regards to origins and explanations to a lot of these memes, information that may be difficult if not impossible to achieve by other means, and Encyclopedia Dramatica provides the right context and attitude for these memes, which the other catalogues do not.

Observation of how memes develop can be done, at websites such as YouTube, 4chan, 9gag, reddit, YTMND and Tumblr. While a lot of these memes originates from YouTube or 4chan the key to their success is the viral dissemination through e.g. E-mails, Facebook or Twitter. Memes can also be made by the use of so-called meme generators. These are Internet services on which the user can upload images or use a wide range of ready-made images and put in a text-caption. Since Internet memes are a new phenomenon only few studies of have been made and they have all been experimental in their approach, some of which are presented here.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Demotivational Poster: A demotivational poster is a parody of an educational or work place poster known as a motivational poster.

Spreadability: The ability to disseminate information.

Otaku: A Japanese term for obsessive collector – often manga-related items. It is commonly used as the Japanese term for a geek or nerd.

Internet Meme: An Internet meme is defined as a motif that is virally disseminated through the Internet. The motif often undergoes lots of variations (mash-ups) and may consist of sound, picture, movie clip, game and written text, or as is mostly the case, a combination by two or more modalities. Moreover the motif can be connected to only one of these modalities but need not be and in such case may enter different kinds of modalities.

Image Macro: An image macro consist of a normal or manipulated image that has been paired with an ingenious phrase that is usually silly, spelled wrong and uses incorrect sentence structure or otherwise creating a humorous effect.

Exploitables: An exploitable is an image that is easy to use for meme purposes whether that is intended or not.

Manga: Japanese comics style.

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