Blog Post

Memes: The Internet's Inside Jokes


Do you recognize any of the following?

How many of the above pictures or videos did you recognize? Did they bring a smile or chuckle to your face? Or were you left confused and wondering?

If you lol'd (laughed out loud), then congratulations: You are officially part of that elite group of people that spends too much time on the Internet. If you didn't, dont worry about it; it must be nice to still have productivity in your life.
In case you happen to be one of the curious, all of the above are memes. In a nutshell, memes are the inside jokes of the Internet. They can take many forms, such as phrases, images, websites, and videos. The only common factor that unites them all is that they are spread via the Internet.

For the more intellectually inclined, the word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in the "The Selfish Gene". According to Dawkins, a meme is a concept that could be spread from person to person or group of people in a manner analogous to the process of evolution. Just as species rise and fall according to natural selection, memes can evolve via mutation and competition.

A perfect example of this evolution can be found in the "Y u no guy" meme. The meme features a distinctive face of frustration that usually accompanies a question written in shorthand that draws attention to particular issue. For example:

The origin of this image can be traced back to a sci-fi manga known as Gantz, created by Hiroya Oku. In chapter 55, the face first makes its appearance on page 11:

However, its first debut as a meme was on Tumblr, in the following form:

After that template went viral, another version was uploaded to Meme Generator in the template we recognize today:


Variations on the meme have exploded on the Web, with hilarious versions such as:

Now, many of you may be wondering why on earth you should care about memes since many of them are largely pointless, however funny they may be. The truth is, memes unify the online global community and serve as one of the anchors for a shared online identity. They are especially unique because in spite of the natural divide between online and offline identities, memes are one of the few things that can cross over. For example, indices of success on online forums, i.e., being a moderator, having the respect of other forum users, being able to verbally put down trolls, cant be used similarly in real life. Can you imagine telling your boss, "Sure, those reports didnt get in on time, but HelloKitty69 and too_cool_for_school can tell you what insightful posts I have online!" Its rather ludicrous, really. Being able to share a joke, like a meme, is far easier.

As the inside jokes of the internet, memes distinguish between cursory users and true users. By true, we mean the people who have spent enough (or too much) time online to understand the passing trends of the Internet. In some ways, this inside knowledge that only true internet users have is similar to the way that you can distinguish between the true natives of a country and mere visitors that claim to belong there. As one of our Peruvian friends used to say, There are Peruvians and then there are people who just say theyre Peruvian. For him, only the people who had grown up in Peru or spent a lengthy period of time in the country could truly be Peruvian. This is because unlike ethnically Peruvian people who return to the motherland for summer vacations and visits but are raised elsewhere, true Peruvians know what it is fully like to live there, customs, problems, and all. Implicit in these statements is the assumption that true Peruvians have access to knowledge that other Peruvians do not have, a knowledge gained simply by being in the right place at the right time; this shared knowledge is what makes a true Peruvian distinct. For example,  fake Peruvians often use outdated slang or make references to old TV shows, which is a sign that they are not up-to-date with current trends. Likewise, the knowledge shared by people of the global online community, such as memes, is what distinguishes them as a group.  

So how important is it for you to be aware of all the different memes floating around on the Internet? It honestly depends upon how much you want to become one of those people who spend too much time on the Internet. We won't lie, theres a fun sense of superiority that comes with being able to recognize memes and laugh about it with people in real life while the Facebook and Twitter addicts sit around confused. Just be prepared to say good-bye to your productivity.  
- Bernice Ponce de Leon and Tim Yoon





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