The Social Construction of Media: Social Media, Culture, and Everyday Life

Origins of Memes: Contributors and Cause

It is a well known fact that many people in the age group called “millennials” (named so because of the period of time they were born in) like to use what we call “memes”. This social phenomenon has spread like wildfire across the internet as social media has become more prevalent in our society.  Memes often have a lot to do with youth culture and web identity and have a tendency to take a current issue and turn that into the meme.  Memes often focus on being relatable or are relevant or current societal themes.  This form of social currency is incredibly temporary and will usually go away after a few months of being very popular. Once people are done with memes, they are often embarrassed by the fact that they used to partake in that phenomenon.  This is is seen within other trends too, one that is most closely compared would be fashion. People focus on a specific thing in fashion for some time and then drop it like a hot potato.


People often associate memes with what we see in current society, often portrayed as pictures with text over the top. Other ways memes are expressed through are videos and songs. A few examples of “non-traditional” memes, in say a song form, are the video of the guy singing “Why You Always Lyin?” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. However, memes have been around as long as society has been around. A meme is simply a societal inside joke and only with the internet have we really started to be able to seriously track and identify popular and trending memes. One example of an uncommon meme is as old as 500 years old.  The particular meme I am talking about is the common medieval image of knights fighting snails. We can classify this as a meme because it is found in many places but with almost no explanation and it serves as a visual as to the kinds of shenanigans people got up to back then or perhaps serves as a reflection of current political climates, just as current memes do today.   This spread of information through humor and relating to other people is what is so interesting about meme culture.  


The word meme comes from the Greek mimema or “that which is imitated”. This term was originally used by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  He used it in his book entitled The Selfish Gene in the year 1976. Essentially Dawkins initially used the term to discuss the ways that humans use imitation to spread ideas and this might be biological in some way.  He focused primarily on the way that imitation helped with natural selection in that if people were doing things that should be imitated then they survived, thus creating more imitation. This spread of information can directly be translated into the way we distribute popular culture. Even though the topics that are being spread are a bit lighter than the original purpose for the word, they are nonetheless talking about the same thing.        

Applications of Memes

Youth culture is an important aspect of the internet and memes are actually a large part of how trends in the media are formed.  Though they may seem nonsensical at first, memes are incredibly trendy on the internet, making it easily accessible for marketing companies.  Certain memes grow to viral popularity and tend to shape much of what is popular at a current moment in time on certain social websites.  The biggest strength and weakness of internet popularity is the lightning effect it has.  Memes are no exception to this rule, as many tend to fade into the depths of the web after their time in the spotlight expires.  

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how these funny and nonsensical jokes spark into viral fame and exactly how long it takes for one of these memes to die out.  But during their time in the sun memes have the ability to turn everyday people into celebrities practically overnight. Some creators are given endorsements and appear on television.  One example of this endorsed fame would be the trend of the “Damn Daniel” Meme that went viral on the popular mobile app, Vine.  The video centered around a boy wearing white vans in all the video clips and his friend’s comments on this.  This video became viral enough for the boys in the video to be brought on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.  Along with this appearance on television, Vans provided Daniel and his friend with a large supply of Vans brand shoes to help promote their product.  This is an excellent example of viral marketing and how companies try to participate in the fame by profiting off of these media sensations.

  So now, one of the biggest questions that needs an answer is why these memes are such a large part of youth culture.  One hypothesis states that people who utilize social media on a daily basis are always seeking out material that they can relate to easily and share with their friends.  This seems like a possibility since a large portion of popular memes are reaction pictures depicting a certain emotion.  People are able to identify with these simple emotions and want to share these funny images around to exemplify and share an aspect of themselves with others that they know.

Another hypothesis states that memes can be identified quickly and easily, so they blend fairly well with how people consume media on a daily basis.  The basic definition of a meme can actually apply to many things on the internet.  In order for something to qualify as a meme, the subject in question needs to be easily identifiable without needing context.  This could mean that emoticons, another large part of youth culture, could qualify as a type of meme. 

            Youth culture continues to evolve every day and it is important to recognize the power the internet has had over it in the past decade.  Memes are a large part of the fast-paced nature of the online world and needs to be analyzed as more and more companies utilize it for marketing purposes.  The uses and creation of memes are also intrinsically interesting, along with the evolution of them over the course of history.  

Technological Timing before and after memes

Memes have existed before the help of technology such as the internet or even before the creation of the phone. These such memes would be the Alfred E. Neuman and Abraham Lincoln famous line “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”. The Alfred E. Neuman which is normally associated with being the icon of MAD Magazine which was created in the 1960’s. The MAD magazine icon was spread via word of mouth, letters and magazines. Abraham Lincoln’s famous line is also considered a meme because it was element of culture and it was passed on my non-genetic means. Memes are not just funny images that have been altered or changed but they can be pieces of culture that hold some significant mean.

But with the advancements of technology the biggest tool being the internet. The internet has caused the memes to spread tremendously fast because, now it is easy to spread ideas quickly across the globe. Memes at first was spread by word of mouth, newspaper, letters or even carvings in some case because, of that only certain regions or communities would have an understanding of the cultural context.  By using the traditional methods of spreading information before the internet it was incredibly slow by today’s standards. Another issue that may have happened is that information may have been filtered or blocked some times because most information before the internet had to be published.  Overall the internet has accelerated the spread of information thus helping the spread of memes.

The internet was not only reason but it definitely had a role to play but social media also played a major role. Social media being Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter to name a few. Social media and general technological advancements has made it easy to find and spread memes without being filtered by anything which means anyone can find or make a meme that they please. This can be seen almost on a daily basis from YouTube because of all the content creators making their own material based on what they observe from today’s culture. Memes can be created so quickly from current events that could be from a movie, a funny image to a public event. Someone searches for instance a significant event or something that is well known to most more than likely the person will find a meme almost instantly refer to that event in some sort of context.

Memes have been around for a very long time and sometimes not being even referred to as memes but, overall with the timing of technological advancements a new brand of information has flourished due to advancements being memes. Memes will continue to become a funny or sometimes a serious way of conveying information, memes will also have some presence in current culture as long as people will continue to share and create information for each other across the world.



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