The word “meme” was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene where he proposed the idea that if ideas were like organisms they would breed and mutate in the human brain. The spreading of ideas is the basis for human culture and Dawkin’s argues that all life relies on replication, so ideas replicate from their originating brain and spread to others; like real organisms some ideas will die out, some will go viral, and some must evolve to survive. Dawkin’s coined the term as an abbreviation of mimeme, a Greek word meaning “that which is replicated” (Scarbrough 2015).
Based on this theory all repeated behavior, such as language itself, is a meme, but we primarily associate the term with images on the internet. Internet memes can be described as fulfilling the criteria for a biological evolutionary process; the form and details are copied, there is variation (errors or additions) and selection (often only part or something is copied in a meme) (Blackmore 2000).
One of the most popular internet memes, Pepe the frog, definitely fits these criteria; Pepe was first created as a character in comic series Boy’s Club featuring four teenage monsters, including Pepe. After a particular comic in the series gained popularity on the site 4chan users began making their own images featuring Pepe with much variation in art style, emotion and portrayal. The various memes using the Pepe character fir the above criteria for an evolutionary process as the base form and details are copied (the face shape and skin colour are a constant in Pepe memes despite other variations), there is variation and there is also selection in that the other characters from the comic were not similarly copied.
I was aware of meme theory when making my own meme image and so I focused on making something originally simple (memes are not usually visually complex), and portraying a simple emotion so that the image could be applied to many situations / have different text overlaid and still work. In a feedback session I actually put my base image in a meme generator and asked the class for fitting text, and I someone shouted “When the tip goes in” which I feel demonstrates the versatility of my meme. After creating my base image and applying text / a specific situation to it (as most memes represent a reaction to something we face in real life) I made variations of it to represent how it could evolve if it were spread.
For my variations I was partially inspired by a recent trend of “deep fried memes” where images have contrast increased heavily, noise/grain added and saturation increase. I also used ripple / swirl effects and stacked layers with reduced opacity to fit with the psychedelic theme of the meme. Overall I am happy with my meme, I think I have understood what defines a meme and made an artfully simple, versatile and funny meme.
Andrew Sheller is a Media Production student at Coventry University. You can see more content from Andrew at their Facebook page through this link.
Scarbrough, J., (2015) ‘What Is the Origin of the Word “Meme”?’ mental_floss [online] 7 March. Available at http://mentalfloss.com/article/61843/what-origin-word-meme
Blackmore, S., (2000) The meme machine (Vol. 25). Oxford Paperbacks.