In Cyber Safety, The Digital World

What is a Meme?

Memes are probably one of the most explosively popular things to come out of millennials of the internet. Not only is it fun to make your own meme, it’s also very easy! It’s not an uncommon thing to hear someone ask “what are memes?”, and as defined by Dictionary.com, it is a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way. Let’s explore the different kinds of memes out there!

Popular internet memes of today

Memes never stop coming into existence, and there are quite a few very popular ones that you should know of:

  • Doge – A doge is based on an image of a dog making a funny face. The meme is often linked with grammatically erroneous text such as “much happy” or “so anger.” Its popularity lead to the creation of “Dogecoins”, which is a currency of extremely low financial worth. To read more about doge and its origins, check this article on KnowYourMeme.com.
  • Trollface – Trollface is an image depicting a drawing of a man smugly smiling, implying that he has just made someone very angry, and is all too pleased about it! It is often used to instigate people to become further angered.
  • Slender Man – Slender Man is a character who became significantly popular after a video game by the same name. Fan media of the game and the character is extremely popular, especially among teenagers. On the darker side of things, the character has been linked with particularly bad things. In 2014, two teenage girls killed a friend of theirs in the woods as an offering to Slender Man. This created a debate about whether the character was safe to expose to children, or whether these particular children just had mental disorders that weren’t receiving proper treatment.
  • I Took an Arrow to the Knee – This is a meme that originated from the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It comes from a line of dialog that ends with everything explained as “I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow to the knee”, and people began using it to troll each other by making up a story and ending it with that statement.

Know Your Meme

One of the best places to go for all of your internet meme fun is the website KnowYourMeme.com. This website not only catalogs some of the most popular internet memes out there, but analyzes their origins, discusses their popularity and shows some of the best and funniest examples of these memes in action. It is a popular place for internet users to frequent, and many of the proposals are created by interested members. You can also read more about the different types of memes out there in our article Inside the World of Memes.

What is a meme generator?

A popular tool that people use to create memes is a thing called a “meme generator.” It is used to create internet memes by taking an image (typically one that is already a meme), and putting text over it. This has a lot of value and potential fun, as a 10-year-old meme, with the right kind of working and tweaking, can become brand new for modern internet users.

Classic internet memes

Internet memes date back to the forefront of popular internet use. One of the earliest most well-known of these are the Dancing Baby and Hampster Dance. The Dancing Baby first appeared on a collection of experimental testing data and files, and was created by 3D animators in part to test how well they could animate a bipedal 3D model. The 3D animation was public domain, and a web developer named John Woodell created an animated gif of the movie the baby was in, and caused it to be one of the earliest examples of a “viral video” of sorts. It appeared in popular media, notably in the 90’s TV show Ally McBeal.

Hampster Dance came well after the Dancing Baby meme was popular, but is often credited as one of the very first examples of an internet meme. It was created by a Canadian art student named Deidre LaCarte, who used it on a Geocities page (Geocities was a popular way for people to make their own websites in the 90’s). It uses a sped-up sample from Roger Miller’s song “Whistle Stop.” From 1999 to 2000, traffic to this page went from 4 per day to 15,000 per day. It eventually became an international hit, due to pranks and products related to its use.

The toxicity of internet memes

While there is a lot of humor to be taken out of internet memes, it is an all too common part of the community to use memes based around harassment, bigotry and general mean spiritedness. This ties into the problem of anonymity, which encourages people to be far more willing to embrace mean spiritedness and propagate it across the internet. For many, these kinds of memes can often feel hurtful, and as much as people should not feel that they should restrict their own speech, like in any situation, it is important to consider the feelings of others before you make a joke about something.

Two examples that portray this are the memes “Pedobear” and “Shoop Da Whoop”.

Pedobear originates from the image board 4chan, and is a character who actively desires to prey upon children. The actual inspiration for the character is from a Japanese image board, where posters would post an ASCII image (ASCII images are images made using text as components of the image – imagine it as a more complicated version of an emoticon like ^ _ ^) in response to comments that seem like they are baiting people to respond. It was adopted by 4chan and re-purposed to be depicted pursuing children or actively sexually assaulting them. While this is considered funny among many internet circles, victims of childhood sexual assault and their advocates feel that it trivializes a traumatic event, and warps it into humor. Its popularity is definitely unquestioned, as it was even erroneously reported as a mascot used by sexual predators.

Shoop Da Whoop is a different situation, but similarly offensive. It originates from a modification of a scene from the Japanese animated TV show “Dragon Ball Z”, where a character called “Cell” is edited to give him an appearance resembling black face (a form of costume in the early 1900’s, where white people would impersonate black people by wearing makeup on their face, commonly in vaudeville performances) while shooting a laser from his mouth.

Accompanying the image was text which read “Shoop Da Whoop!” This did not really have any purpose beyond humor, and shortly after its creation was often banned in many forums. The reasoning was that its existence was rooted in black face, which is viewed today as stereotypical and offensive, as it depicted black people as happy-go-lucky, and often harkened back to the slave era.

Memes are an ever-growing art form of sorts, and regardless of whether the memes are considered funny, offensive, nice, or downright mean, it cannot be denied that they are a big part of the history of the internet. Going forward, we are sure to see the culture of internet memes grow, change, and develop further. They’re clearly no longer the silly little niche things we once thought them to be and are an undeniably important part of internet cultures across the globe.

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