Memes and Language

So, like any young, hip millennial, I live and breathe the Internet. Social Media is my sustenance. I have obtained pretty much all of the essential applications on my smart phone to consume information: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and….Imgur.

Yes, I admit that I am an imgurian (for almost 2 years now). I got sucked into the site initially to avoid finding reposts of the same old jokes and images. And the site is great – I really enjoy browsing the gallery and connecting with others in a unique way. One aspect that connects all of these applications and platforms together is the usage of memes. I mean, memes are everywhere now. My Dad even uses memes, and I’m pretty sure he has no idea they’re called that.

What I have been thinking about lately is how memes have become a kind of universal language on the Internet. You have an image with a caption,  usually with 1/2 of the text at the top and the remaining 1/2 at the bottom. The image could be a reaction, a commentary, or even help tell a story. And intuitively, the majority of people will understand the meme’s purpose. I think back to when rage comics were widely popular and how their usage brought a humorous way to tell stories, fictitious or not.

Memes can be specialized to mean a certain thing, depending on the image. Take for example Imgur, which allows users to create memes from a wide variety of images. “Socially Awkward Penguin” for example details an awkward situation an individual has in which they felt awkward or uncomfortable afterwards. “Bad Luck Brian” tells hopelessly bad outcomes to situations experienced by and individual, mostly in a humorous tone. Or I think of Imgur’s “Confession Bear,” which enables people to confess dark, deep secrets that they would not tell anyone else.

an example of a “Confession Bear.”

Of course, not all memes need to have captions on them. I’m using a very basic definition of the word “meme.” Perhaps a working definition could include any form of recognizable online image. Like Doge, Pepe, etc. (The temptation to post numerous rare Pepes on this brief blog has been suppressed. You’re welcome). Or perhaps a meme could merely be a humorous image in general. I don’t believe there is a consensus on the definition.

The fact that memes are so prevalent within our internet culture, and yet so nuanced fascinates me. I wonder if they will remain a method of quick communication, or if they will be replaced by some new and faster. Perhaps even as emojis are used more frequently, memes will continue to be utilized and may even begin to replace written language. As the Internet begins to shift and morph, only time will tell.


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