If you spend more than a few hours a day on the Internet (which, you must admit, is the case for nearly all of us), there are certain things you will come across wherever you are. On Twitter, it’s a food ordering site, on Instagram, some parody account. You can even find them on the hook-up apps. A smiling grandpa with gleaming teeth wearing doctor’s clothes a guy watching a girl pass by while another girl next to him labels him, as an evil Kermit … They’re everywhere. Literally everywhere.
What they are?
They are memes.
This word seems to have crept into almost all languages. We communicate with memes more and more often. Whether it’s pointing out serious problems or just as a joke.
All righty! We will start, in an academic, nerdy manner, to first define what memes are, by consulting serious researchers and sources.
According to MW Dictionary, this word dates back to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In Dawkins’ conception of the term, it is “a unit of cultural transmission”—the cultural equivalent of a gene.
Meme found its place in dictionaries, from 2015, which define it as an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or type of item that is spreads widely online especially through social media.
Okay, great, but not every digital content that gains popularity is a meme, right? There is a whole lot of fun contents on the internet, but not all of them are meme.s
So, another question arises – what are essential elements of a meme?
It is an extremely challenging to try to determine the anatomy of such an elastic and evolving concept as a meme.
There are several features.
- Reproducibility: digitally produced pieces of content must be infinitely reproducible and exploitable across a wide breadth of platforms.
- Searchability: finished versions of memes, as well as raw templates, should be easy to find.
- Scalability: digital material is created for a specific audience, but with the knowledge that it can be shared with a much wider audience, wherever the internet reaches.
- Persistence: although digital items may not last as long as physical objects, they are infinitely transferable and storable in many locations.
- Adaptable model: memes should have recognisable structures, with spaces for new content.
Maybe it isn’t very appropriate to say, given the times we are living in, but internet memes are probably quite comparable to viruses. They are dependent on living hosts, have the capacity to infect anything and everything, the ability to evolve, to mutate, to grow and, most importantly, to spread.
Because they are ubiquitous and very popular, everyone starts to use them. Just everyone. Businesses, politicians, celebrities … Even activists. Particularly activists! Quite simple to make and even simpler to distribute and disseminate; they can communicate a stance or message at a glance, revealing an issue in such a plain, yet appealing way.
As they have the tendency to spread quickly, constantly evolve and transform, it makes them hard to eliminate in the way that other forms of communicative protest can be silenced.
A wide breadth of international human rights organizations have recognized the importance and capacity of memes in combatting various types of discrimination such as racism, homophobia and transphobia.
Let’s take a look at examples of how memes have been used in LGBTQI+ activism
Do you recall “gay Putin” meme, that became viral in 2013?
As this altered image with lipstick and makeup gained popularity and mobilized the queer movement across Russia, it seems that the Head of State, either out of fear of massive, nationwide mobilization, or dissatisfaction that an internet meme which depicted him with mascara and rainbow colours disrupting his masculine image, started to crack down on both sexual liberties and online speech.
In the very same year, 2013, Russia passed its first “Internet extremism” laws. A year later, President Putin signed a law imposing prison sentences on people supporting banned online posts. In 2015, Russian law enforcement began shutting down websites of Putin critics, restricting virtually all anonymous blogs.
Eventually, in 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the “Gay Putin meme” in a registry of “extremist materials,” together with others such as anti-semitic and racist pictures and slogans. It became illegal to distribute the image of a Russian president wearing makeup.
The fierceness of the repression is a clear indicator of how powerful the Russian authorities see this new form of political satire.
Another example is the “Gay culture is…” meme.
Queerty traced the meme’s origins to early September 2017, when one man’s tweet about his wasted teenage years went viral.
Immediately, Twitter users started producing content in the same format, expressing their own vision of what “Gay Culture” means to them.
The format here is different as the meme invites users not only to share a set content but to collaborate with personal inputs. This format is clearly the expression of the present age of activism that focuses more on active participation than passive sharing.
The final question that remains to be asked is whether memes be considered a ‘slacktivist’ tool, and if so – how strong are they really? In practice so far, it can be said that memes are possibly responsible for helping fuel ongoing discourse on many issues.
Current research suggests that internet memes play an important role in civic expression and citizen empowerment. Queer activists and campaigners have already leveraged this, and with certainty will continue to do so.
Creating your memes
And yeah, I’ve left the best news to the end – memes are very easy to make!
You don’t need knowledge about design, or be skilled in Photoshop. Just visit THIS website and generate your own meme. You can use some that are already popular or you can popularize your template – simply by uploading the desired photo.
If you want to make a meme out of a gif – just visit this website.