Chapter 6: 21st-century media and issues
English 102, February 2021
What makes a person laugh? Could it be clowns, cat videos, or comedians? Something that makes me laugh is memes. Memes are humorous texts or situations that people share online. People have different opinions about memes, some positive, some negative. Regardless of the matter, I believe the history of memes has led to new online social interactions, new vocabulary to the English language, and the continuation of literacy through the communication of memes.
From my understanding, memes originated from vines. Vines were usually live-action shorts where individuals would do or say something humorous or relatable. These vines would then be popularized on YouTube and other social media. This growing group of vine viewers and producers created a new social cluster of people. It is far from an organized group, but this cluster of people began to communicate interests, hobbies, and relatable moments through the usage of vines. This cluster of people can be joined and existed as with the blink of an eye, it all depends on one’s communication to being online and involved in online humor. This includes viewers as well. Many people in modern memes like to refer to this cluster as “the internet.” While it is true that a massive amount of people online view memes, some people like to use the internet strictly for business, so this term does mean the whole internet. Through the use of vines, more people joined “the internet” and became familiar with the idea of posting shorthanded humor online. During the era of vines, I was not currently literate on social media. At the time, I had only heard of vines through the chatter of other people. These vines related to my literacy because this was the time where I started to also take note of online humor. I noticed that an individual in-person could be funny, but so could that same person online. This expanded my definition of the genre of humor.
Although vines were well enjoyed by the internet, their time of glory soon came to an end with the new era of memes. It should be noted that this transition took time and did not happen immediately over the internet. Rather, each new era of meme phases out old meme eras. The new era of memes is what I describe as the drawn meme age. This was most certainly one of the longest existing meme eras and it includes many iconic memes still occasionally enjoyed today. The era was constructed by memes that appear to be extremely simple drawings of human emotions. Drawn era memes are almost always accompanied by a short text and might include panels, similar to how a comic book reads. Popular drawings include the troll face, le gusta meme, and like-a-boss stick figures (see figure 1). These drawings, combine with their text, allowed content producers to convey exaggerated or enhanced emotions to their audience. Another term for a content producer is what many like refer to as a memer or meme lord if one wants to go that far. This drawing era is a stark contrast to the vines because a memer can keep their anonymity, while in vines people are required to share their visage. The drawn era was truly when I started to be an active consumer of memes. I enjoyed the quick-witted puns that these memes provided. Sometimes, I would spend hours just looking and reading these memes. The troll face memes were by far my favorite. I remember saving the troll face icon in my photo library so if I ever wanted to use it in a text chat, I could. Whenever someone in my texting group sent a troll face to one another, it usually meant that they did something funny, or their previous comment was just a joke and should not be taken seriously. The drawn era offered plenty of other memes, like the troll face, where anyone could copy the image and use it to express an emotion, similar to an emoji. This form of communication was unique in my eyes and enjoyed by others who used memes to communicate in a group text. These communications were all possible because of the drawn era memes.
Although the drawn era was through the internet, another era was happening as well. Circa the drawn meme era, there was what I like to call the classic meme era. This era often exhibited memes that are single panel, contain white font with a black border, and an image in the background (see figure 2). The images often were reused, but contained a similar ‘base emotion,’ while white font added a new context to that image. The Classic era, similar to its sibling, the Drawn meme era, did last for a longer amount of time, but unlike the Drawn era, most of the Classic era memes are considered dead or outdated by the internet. It is common practice that a dead meme ceases to be posted because they create an unsettling feeling in the audience. The reason why this practice exists is somewhat of a mystery but can slightly be explained by the fact that people do not want to see the same meme repeatedly. This phenomenon fosters new memes but also forces memers to adapt to new eras or risk their popularity. It should also be noted that while the internet as a whole might view a meme as dead, small groups of the internet might still enjoy a meme, making the meme live in that respective group. I understood the Classic era of memes as one of the easiest ways to communicate day to day situations. This was also the era where I noticed, in my friend-group-chat, that memes soon became competitive. To elaborate, everyone in the group chat would try to have the funniest meme posted last. This communication led to a string of nothing but memes being communicated from each person in the group chat. The point of doing this was to seem like the funniest person in the group by finding the funniest meme.
Over time, more and more people became dedicated to memes. Many personal social media accounts have participated in the sharing of memes by this time. While the internet embraced the sharing of memes, some memers noticed that their work was being copied. If the meme were stolen, with no credit given to the creator, memers would consider the stealer a meme thief. In modern times, most people do not care about whether they stole a meme or not because everyone did it at some point. However, during this era, people were passionate that their work was not stolen. This next era is the clone era. The Clone era is what appears to end in the classic era. Due to the many social media accounts active in the internet cluster, the hassle of making a white font with a black border seemed unnecessary for many and the style of classic memes was all dying. This brought the new age of cloned memes. These memes often use simple fonts and often include a popular person or character. What made their era completely unique from other eras was the uniformity of the memes. The best example of this era would be the spongegar meme (see figure 3). This meme was on every major memer’s page. Despite having different text and different context, every memer would clone a template of this specific meme. Due to the consistent reuse of the same meme template, clone era memes often died faster than most. If a social media site were to be lagging even a few days behind others, this could result in a Clone era meme being dead before it fully reaches other social media platforms. A good example of this is the Uganda Nuckles meme. Only a few days after the meme fully arrived on Instagram other meme viewers were already showing distaste for the meme, declaring it as dead while hopping onto a new meme. This hypercycle of picking up and dropping memes is what is suspected to believe what caused the collapse of the Clone era memes. Like all other memes, the Clone era memes also relate to literacy. Clone era memes, I noticed, in the comment section self-promoting became more popular. I often would find memers commenting on other’s comments try to rake up followers and make themself more noticed.
Shortly after the collapse of the almost-meme-empires from the clone era, the memers realized that using a clone is acceptable but it is not a viable method if everyone uses the same meme template. This caused a new wave of memes, often referenced to as the collapse meme. Collapse era memes have very little in common except for the fact that some were particularly bizarre. The best example of the would be the E meme (see figure 4). This meme was an unusual edit of Lord Farquaad, Mark Zuckerberg on trial, and a YouTuber named Markiplier. The E text provided no real understanding and neither did the image. Despite this, the meme became popular and was amusing for its moment of fame. The Collapse era itself was brief but a few Collapse era memes are still being produced today. I noticed that the comments on these memes were often unappreciative of these memes, many questioning how memes even evolved to such a low point. My high school friends and I found these memes funny, but not for a very long time. We would often, in a text group chat, share a Collapse era meme, only for someone to argue the point that “it wasn’t funny.”
The final era is what is going to be called the Modern era. This era stands apart from other eras due to the sheer diversity of memes. This era started circa before the Clone era and is still in effect today. Modern era memes include video memes, gif memes, Tik Tok memes, movie quote memes, dark humor, as well as semi-cloned memes. Modern era memes will also borrow memes or make remarks from previous eras. The modern era of memes survived through different eras because of their ability to adapt and be diverse. This meme diversity also makes the life span of a meme much longer than how other eras would have treated it. A good example is the Chad meme. This meme was always humorous due to its exaggerated context and its vast diversity of artwork. Despite the fact Chad meme is no longer in its prime, Chad memes are still made today, and they have not been declared dead. The modern meme also excels at sharing points of view, whether it be political, the relationship between a girl and her boyfriend, or between the United States and Canada.
The modern era of memes is where I started to make a few memes for myself. The modern era memes that I made were always directed to a specific interest group. An example that I have is this Clash of Clans meme. The meme is special because only a person who actively plays Clash of Clans would fully understand what I was communicating. Through communication of modern memes, I also noticed that I could use these memes as a video game and movie review system. A good example of this is the recent game Cyberpunk 2077. I was considering getting the game when suddenly I saw a new flow of memes revolving around the game. All the memes pointed to the flaws in the game, such as poor graphics, bugged physics, and flawed logic. Through the communication of memes, I learned that Cyberpunk 2077 was not a well-programmed game and decided not to buy it. Another way I use memes is to communicate to friends who are a long distance away. An example of this is a friend, unnamed, who is in Canada. She and I both enjoy memes and both enjoy Star Wars. I can communicate to her by sending a Star Wars related meme. She will often send a Star Wars related meme back. These memes on their own only relate to Star Wars, but by sending them to one another, we share opinions about the actual content of the Star Wars film. To elaborate, I send a meme that references to General Grievous trying to collect more lightsabers. This communicates to her that I am making a meme out of Grievous’s addiction to collecting lightsabers. While at the same time it is humorous, it comments on an odd feature of the character, which is understood by my Canadian friend. This communication, in short, allows us to converge onto a similar topic and relate to one another’s interest in Star Wars.
Communicating through memes is more than just communicating to people you know. Other observations I have noticed about the literacy involved with memes is also through the comment section. Almost every major social media has a comment section. To go into further detail about the comment section, I must mention that memes allow strangers to converse. An example of this is time I had a conversation under a Minecraft-related meme. The meme suggested, using humor, that a glowing squid would be useless in the game. I cannot directly quote the original conversation, but it went in a similar fashion.
Stranger: “To be honest, yeah, a glowing squid in Minecraft does not seem like a good idea.”
Me: “I am on the same page with you on that. I think the iceloger would have been a cool new mob in place of the glow squid.”
Stranger: “I wanted the moobloom. I think the iceloger would make it annoying to cross mountains. But I agree with you that anything would be more interesting than that glow squid.”
Me: “Still, the iceloger would have been another unique Illager to combat, but yeah, anything except the glow squid.”
This conversation, though brief, allowed a completely random person and me to talk about a game we both enjoy. This hinds at the fact that memes are capable of fostering communication. With the original message of the meme as the focal point, almost any topic can be explored, commented on, and discussed with others on the internet.
Memes only go to show how humans have evolved on the internet to maximize their need for a diverse way of communicating through humor, to be exact memes. Through the shared history of online memes, people can connect from great distances by relating to day-to-day humor. Today, my friends and I still share memes to keep in touch. We share memes that comment on our daily lives, what is going on in the news, and what our interests are. With that said, memes and literacy go hand in hand.
Adam. “Lord Marquaad E.” Know Your Meme, 2018, knowyourmeme.com/memes/lord-marquaad-e.
Blubber, Captain. “Trollface.” Know Your Meme, 2010, knowyourmeme.com/memes/trollface.
Blunt, James. “SpongeGar / Primitive Sponge / Caveman Spongebob.” Know Your Meme, 2015, knowyourmeme.com/memes/spongegar-primitive-sponge-caveman-spongebob.
Raspberry, Funky. “One Does Not Simply Walk into Mordor.” Know Your Meme,2010, knowyourmeme.com/memes/one-does-not-simply-walk-into-mordor.