Student Life

Online memes explodes in popularity

Junior Samantha Payk doesn’t quite remember when the craze started.

Much like the Big Bang, she said memes simply appeared, flooding the Internet, and ever since have been impossible to get away from.

“They’re everywhere,” the Freeland native said. “It makes sense though, they’re just fun.”

Just four years ago, the concept of the meme was broad, and meant to try to capture the way information spreads around a certain culture.

The concept was developed by famous biologist and skeptic Richard Dawkins in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene.

“We need … a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation,” Dawkins wrote. “‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.”

Though, “meme” is rarely used in such a broad sense anymore. Ever since the Internet got hold of the concept, it has become more clear. Even though it is still difficult to entirely define, it is easy to identify.

Freshman Brandon McCleese found it east to define “memes.”

“They’re just pictures with funny words on them,” the New Jersey native said. “And it’s crazy, there are just so many variations.”

Generally, memes are created on Reddit or 4Chan, where someone posts an entertaining picture, and the masses caption it endlessly.

Derek Thornton, a Harper Woods freshmen, was able to instantly pull up a list of hundreds on his smart phone. He loaded several onto his screen, including one of his favorite variations, “The Successful Black Man.”

The meme shows a black man dressed in business attire, superimposed in front of a brown and beige color wheel background. The joke typically uses a bait and switch tactic, with an upper caption that displays a negative, racial stereotype and then a lower caption that subvert expectations to something more positive.

“I just can’t get enough of him. He’s so respectable,” Thornton said. “He’s classy. Really classy.”

Some students even make their own memes. Elliot Maksout, a Clawson sophomore, has made his own memes on several occasions.

One of his most recent combined a picture of Willy Wonka from Mel Stuart’s 1971 flick, and a sarcastic caption underneath. The meme is pulled together by the mocking look on Willy Wonka’s face.

“When you order Menna’s, did they call your sister at 1:43 a.m.,” Maksout’s meme said, referring to a recent incident where Menna’s Joint, 1418 S. Mission St., woke up his sister in a mix up.

If you still don’t entirely get it, Maksout said that’s the point. Meme’s are best when they’re used personally.

“The best one’s are inside jokes,” he said.

Memes have become popular among more than the college crowd. They have also hit mainstream news and culture as a whole. Both the Huffington Post and NPR wrote articles about the best meme of 2012.

Freshman Charles Bradshaw said he had no idea how memes spread so quickly. While cultural phenomenons used to take weeks, they now take hours. But Bradshaw doesn’t see memes lasting.

“They’re just mini-fads,” the St. Louis native said. “That’s all they are. They’ll be gone in three years.”

Bradshaw said to enjoy them while they last.


  1. Brian Zelicki says:

    Freshman Brandon McCleese found it east to define “memes.”
    As opposed to finding it west, north or south to find memes?

  2. There are so just so many errors with this that I wonder if you’ve ever really used the internets.

    1. A “meme” is not “just pictures with funny words on them”. That would be one very specific variant known as an “Advice Dog”-style spin-off. The term applies to just about any inside joke on the web. Had the author of this article ever actually visited the ol’ Encyclopedia Dramatica they’d realize that.

    2. “Just four years ago” was not at all when memes became popular on the web. Again, the Advice Dog variants that you are talking about stem from the 2008 origins of Advice Dog. And many are much older.

    3. Did that guy really try to suggest that he invented the Willy Wonka variant? lulz

    4. I’d continue, but the mods are asleep so I have to go do a barrel roll and tighten up the graphics on level 3.

  3. Most people just completely screw up the whole concept behind a specific meme such as the Condescending Wonka example in this poorly-put-together article. And why are people suggesting that memes are just now exploding in popularity? If you know your internet stuff, you’d know that memes have been big for a very long time. And they will probably never go away as long as the internet exists. However, it’s major downfall will be when idiot meme n00bs completely ruin the concept behind memes and turn them into pure inside jokes like what was said above.

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