I have to say that it feels like it took me forever to get with the program on the internet (I even feel like an outsider for calling it the internet, there’s probably some edgier names for it now that I’m unaware of), but I think it’s safe to say that by this time, I totally know what a meme is when I see one.
With all of the insane news that is going on, and pretty much for every controversy and aggressively extreme point of view, there is a radically-stated phrase (or picture of a sign with such a phrase) that is placed online as a visceral counterpoint to those points of view. I know this because I’ve been exceedingly sharing them from friends to other friends on facebook as of late, and what better place to put these thoughts than on the social networks where people live a good portion of their daily lives? When I spend as much time as I do on that page, I find myself in agreement with virtually everybody, and even if I haven’t had a chance to actually sit down and have personal chats with all of these people (some of whom I have met in person, others I haven’t), I feel comfortable enough with their interaction that I’m immersed in a like-minded community that hates stupidity, immorality, greed, power, and hatred itself (and that can be almost anything running the gamut between homophobia, racism, antisemitism, etc). And what’s a really nice surprise for me is that my family members, who are among my friends on facebook, usually press the like button for some of the ones that I’ve shared.
The memes at times are like the electronic equivalent or continuation in tradition of one-frame political cartoons. Sometimes these memes are dead serious in nature, other times they give me either a much needed laugh or a smile. There are also memes that are much more simplistic in nature, and will just be a great photo image or inspiring statement like “Music is my escape from all the bullshit in life”, or “The difference between who you are and who you want to be… is what you do”. And in a culture where people overrate pop stars like Justin Bieber, it’s refreshing that someone had the time and audacity to put together a meme that points out the difference between the lyrics of a Bieber song versus a song by a former pop idol, Frank Sinatra, and adds a caption underneath the images of the 2 singers (and the lyrics) with the words “Music–w-what HAPPENED?”.
There have also been completely pointless meme fads like pictures of people “planking” and “Tebowing” (after NFL star Tim Tebow) where people look like they just want to be part of something. I don’t blame people that have the desire for that, but the activity is lame.
And then there are stories like the Trayvon Martin case, where many people have taken to the web creating their own memes of solidarity wearing hoodies in protest of the release of the man that shot Martin, George Zimmerman. There is an understandable feeling among people about the way our justice system exists in various parts of the United States (regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that allows people to use excessive force with a weapon), and I do feel for Martin’s family, though I haven’t been compelled to create a hoodie meme of my own. I know that the hoodie thing was meant to send a message in response to the report that Martin was shot because he wore a hoodie and looked “dangerous”, and Geraldo Rivera’s rant about the hoodie that literally almost sounded as if he supports Zimmerman only served to make Geraldo look just as bad as Zimmerman. Lots of people wear hoodies (Hilary Hahn even has a hoodie on after one of her concerts at the end of her documentary Hilary Hahn: A Portrait. Does she look dangerous?). But I do understand that this is neither planking or Tebowing, it is a much more passionate and heartfelt gesture of tribute. In the meantime, Twitter is another place on the web where people can make statements that have a very strong impact, good or bad, on society, to the point where (depending on who tweets them) they can have a far more dangerous impact than any hoodie ever will on people. Two celebrities, Spike Lee and Roseanne Barr, decided it would be a good idea to tweet to the world Zimmerman’s home address as some sort of internet vigilantism. Lee tweeted the WRONG ADDRESS and innocent people were harassed for nothing, while Barr thought it would still be okay to tweet the correct address, proving she learned nothing from his mishap. There appears to be an even darker side to the way the power of the internet affects people.
Apart from the ones that are just images or statements, it’s hard to believe that this tradition had actually started with The Hamster Dance–Created by an art student in 1999 to compete with her sister for internet traffic, she used GIF animation and the then-fairly new browser feature HTML, and ended up with an internet sensation on her hands, and this was before facebook or Twitter even existed. I haven’t yet seen anything else of its kind that challenges the Hamster Dance for its originality or innocence, but even though the style has evolved, the intent of the internet meme has maintained its purposeful status.