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Memeology

October 30, 2011

I love Internet memes. I love how a single silly image or video can suddenly capture people’s imagination in such a way that it spreads like wildfire and gets appropriated in all sorts of creative projects. I love their wittiness and brevity.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of Internet memes: they’re a cultural online phenomenon that can basically take any shape. Catchphrases, certain spellings, images, videos, links – well, anything. Some of them have a brief but intense lifespan, in which they gain popularity within hours but quickly get old or worn out, while others can keep going for years (see, for example, the LOLcat phenomenon). Know Your Meme is a database of all memes which have or had a widespread dissemination (some memes are very site-specific) and is helpful in figuring out the origins or general context of a meme, new or old.

Internet memes are not without their problems. Retard Girl, a certain kind of Advice Animal, is obviously ableist and terrible. And just this week, the images from the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign – a campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the harmful effects of culturally appropriating costumes – were themselves appropriated by the Internet at large and turned into a meme, thereby turning the serious goals of the campaign to mockery.

Despite the problems of certain memes, there are also many I love. Two of my recent favorites originated on blogging site Tumblr, which is known for its many “single-serving blogs” (often devoted to a single site-specific meme) and (varieties on) “fuckyeah[something/one]” Tumblrs. The latter are blogs which celebrate a certain thing, concept, person, fictional character, idea, or meme (how very meta). My current favorites could be said to fall under the single-serving blog caption: Feminist Ryan Gosling and ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS. Both these blogs deliver exactly what it says on the tin: Feminist Ryan Gosling has pictures of actor Ryan Gosling with texts related to feminism, while ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS has pictures of animals with captions written in capital letters. When you put it like that, I guess these blogs don’t sound very interesting. So allow me to share some of the images (all credit goes to the original blogs, naturally).

The Feminist Ryan Gosling meme is based on the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” meme, which originated on fuckyeahryangosling.tumblr.com, where images of Ryan Gosling were captioned with relatively sensitive and innocent pick-up lines. The blog’s author calls her images “feminist theory flashcards from your favorite sensitive movie dude-turned-meme.” There are relatively few entries on the blog, due to the fact that the author does not allow submissions from readers and other bloggers. This is probably also one of the reasons for the meme’s relatively lengthy success (going on for almost a month now, which is like a century in Internet time, where attention spans are short). The meme could have easily gotten tired if there had been a flood of new entries, but the slow trickle of new images keeps readers looking forward to them.

ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS also does not allow submissions. Pictures of animals that look like they have something to say may be submitted by readers, but the captions are written by the blog’s author. As a result, this meme also has readers looking forward to new posts, and additionally a certain continuity in writing style and overall approach is guaranteed.

YES, KIMBERLY. INHALE THE GAS.

BREATHE DEEP. DON’T FIGHT IT. AS SOON AS YOU FALL ASLEEP I WILL MAKE SURE YOU NEVER WAKE.

YOU KNOW HOW YOU SQUEAL “BEBEH KITTEH” EVERY TIME YOU MANHANDLE ME WITH YOUR TERRIFYING FINGERS THAT STINK OF CHEETOS? WELL, I HAPPEN TO BE A GROWN-ASS MAN, AND I HAVE BEEN WAITING PATIENTLY FOR MY TIME TO STRIKE.

I NEEDN’T EVEN MENTION YOU NAMING ME ‘FLUFFLEPUFF’. YOU SIGNED YOUR DEATH WARRANT THE FIRST TIME YOU UTTERED THAT ALOUD.

THIS IS THE LAST TRIP TO THE ORTHODONTIST YOU WILL EVER TAKE.

FLUFFLEPUFF WILL MAKE SURE OF THAT.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR OPINION REGARDING MY EYELINER, BUT LET ME EXPLAIN A COUPLE THINGS TO YOU:

1. I DON’T WEAR IT FOR YOU, NOR DO I PICK OUT MY OUTFITS BASED ON WHAT I THINK MEN WILL LIKE. YOUR CONSTANT OGLING HAS NO BEARING ON MY DECISION TO FLATTER MY FIGURE OR ENHANCE MY NATURAL FEATURES WITH BEAUTY PRODUCTS. THAT IS YOUR GENDER’S CONSTANT MISGUIDED PERCEPTION.

2. YOU DON’T LIKE “WOMEN WHO DON’T WEAR MAKEUP.” YOU LIKE WOMEN WHO ARE WEARING CONCEALER AND BARE ESCENTUALS FOUNDATION CAREFULLY BLENDED INTO THEIR NECKLINE, CHEEKS TINTED LIGHTLY WITH SOFT ROSY CREAM BLUSH, EYESHADOW ONE SHADE DARKER THAN THEIR FOUNDATION, EYELASHES DOTTED WITH GREY PENCIL AND LIPS THAT HAVE BEEN ENHANCED WITH A LIGHT BERRY GLOSS.

THAT’S PROBABLY $200 WORTH OF CREAMS AND POWDERS AND TAKES MORE TIME TO APPLY THAN YOUR ENTIRE ‘SHIT, SHOWER AND SHAVE’ ROUTINE, ALL SO ASSHOLES LIKE YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ‘NATURAL BEAUTY’ WHILE WE’RE WAITING FOR A DAMNED BUS.

3. EVEN IF I HONESTLY CARED ABOUT YOUR AMATEUR MAKEUP CRITIQUES I WOULDN’T IN A MILLION YEARS GO OUT WITH YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE AN IGNORANT, BALDING FASHION CASUALTY WITH NOODLE ARMS AND A BEER GUT WHO CAN’T KEEP HIS EYES OR OPINIONS TO HIMSELF.

IF YOU KEEP TALKING TO ME I’M GOING TO SHOVE YOUR SANDALS UP YOUR ASS AND YOU CAN WADDLE HOME IN YOUR SOCKS.

While ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS posts a lot of entries which are ‘merely’ funny (like the first one quoted here, which engages with the widespread belief that our cats actually hate us – while also referring to Harry Potter, which has a broad online fanbase), it also has a political and social engagement, as exhibited in the second example. I find this latter feature, which is present in both memes, the most attractive. It provides an antidote to the more negative (racist, sexist, ableist, classist, etc.) memes out there, but it also wraps these political messages in a package that is palatable and understandable for a wider audience – an audience which would not always seek out or think about such politics.

Internet memes are a special kind of animal. They can make you laugh, they can make you think, they can make you seethe with anger. Often they’re born with a bang, but die with a whimper. Sometimes they come full circle or turn meta. They’re a cultural phenomenon which inspires many to tremendous creativity, which is wholly democratic, which evolves organically and beyond the control of a single person (even the authors of the blogs I mentioned can’t stop people from making their own Feminist Ryan Goslings or ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS – all they can do is not allow submissions to the blog). They represent both the best and the worst of the Internet in all its diversity, rudeness, and incredible wittiness.

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