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The Melting Pot

A digital, cultural conversation

The art of the meme is a curious one.

My friends started a Facebook meme war a few weeks ago, posting meme after meme of their favorite meme-able person in our friend group – we probably spent hours laughing at the clarity and poignancy of some of the images. Identities were captured and held in time with the meme, thus kick-starting my intrigue with them.

Ooh. Awkward.

Culturally, the idea of a meme stems from the generator that spreads from person to person in a wave of popularity. Some claim they evolve by the process of natural selection and evolution, and retain popularity biologically.

Enter dot-com boom and Internet era.

Memes now litter Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, as well as just-for-meme sites like quickmeme – you name the site, a meme has probably had some semblance of a stint on it. Memes have taken the Internet world by a storm.

They’re annoying, definitely. Memes circle around and get liked and favorited more times than anyone would ever like to count. Everyone gets bored of them – really, how many Chuck Testa memes can you pretend are still funny three months later? The stupidity of our culture is exaggerated in crude images that become insanely popular, seemingly deprecating the human race and its values. They almost always involve reinforcing stereotypes and furthering everything that’s wrong about society today.

“Meme” in French means “same.” And in a way, the meme’s definition captures it in a repetitive light – the same ideas and concepts are in each frame, repeated and circulated around the Internet. College Freshman, High Expectations Asian Father and Socially Awkward Penguin and others have series of memes, all tying back to the same themes: being a lost/alone freshman, always striving for success and being different, in these memes’ cases. They’re repetitions of sex, drugs and college life – the same photographs over and over, the same rhythm of phrase and then funnier phrase. Thanks, Facebook news feed, for being cluttered every day with the same remnants of a superficial, repetitive meme circle of life.

 

But as much as there is wrong with the meme, there’s also something innately very human about it. It takes complicated ideas, like moving to college for the first time, being a blue-collar worker or living a

Poor guy. He's all alone in a completely different world.

day-to-day life, and breaks them down to simpler versions, summing up everything in just a sentence. Though these stereotypes are harsh, they are somewhat based in a shred of truth. Memes strip down truths to their cores, and helps us understand the world around us better.

I’m sure analysts and researchers are marveling at the impact of memes; what they try to explain in pages and pages is told just as expressively in a meme, and often in a more engaging and memorable way. Yes, it seems that we become increasingly superficial through the meme-age – we marvel at the accuracy of a simple one-liner in a complex world. But by reading the poignancies of others, we find ourselves better; because of the human aspect prevalent in memes, we discover our own nuances by reading pieces of ourselves and realizing our connections to both meme-able characters and our flaws among them – as funny or sad as they may be. We realize pieces of our identity and put them together to reveal the big puzzle of who we are – both as individuals and as a human race.

I now look at a meme and beyond the stupidity – I see the poignance. I feel something for the character – a connectedness, perhaps, or an ability to relate – that humanizes across different Internet cultures and cities and reminds me that we aren’t so different, after all.

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