Meme culture has grown rapidly in the 21st century. From the political to the historic to even entertainment, no sphere of life has been spared by this, a unit of cultural information spread largely through social media. Pictures, videos, vines, gifs; they come in many forms. The origins of the meme lie in a book about evolutionary biology by Richard Dawkins, but the online version has moved on significantly from that. A viral event or video often becomes the foundation of a concept that is subsequently shared across the world. The beauty lies in the idea that this picture or group of pictures can be suitably modified or captioned to fit any different context. The viscerality of a picture, proven to convey a message better than words alone, makes memes a surprisingly effective tool of communication. In fact, Tom Murphy, an English Major at Northeastern University found in his research that “memes may not necessarily be unique to the Internet but instead represent a deeper way people tell and structure stories, relying on repeated imagery and text that evolves to meet the needs of new uses.”
In an increasingly nihilist world, satire has become extremely popular. Here too, memes have given satire a new lease of life as internet users can parody, remix and create mash-ups of events that make news across the world. In an attempt to expand their outreach to a younger voting population, some political parties and movements too have appropriated memes. The social currency associated with being hip as well as the genuine mass consumption of memes, irrespective of genre, make them a fantastic marketing tool. However, this also makes them dangerous since unlike paper or plastic currency, they cannot be regulated. In the United States, for example, the alt-right adopted ‘Pepe the Frog’ as its marketing symbol. It abused the character to the extent that it ultimately became a racist symbol, one associated with xenophobia and white supremacy.
Despite the very evident dangers, one thing is clear- memes are effective and they will continue to be. Our technologies may evolve and the content behind these pictures might change, but so long as human beings have the innate desire to connect with others and so long as they seek solace in the creation of a shared culture, no matter how superficial, the concept of a meme will not die.