I Was a Teenage Meme
It is my belief that, like the common moth, memes have a lifecycle which can be divided into stages.
Stage One: Creation
The creation stage is just that: creation. Every meme must go through this stage, whether made from pre-existing content or not, and this stage affects the meme early life, particularly during propagation. Our example, Gentlemen, started on 4-chan:
The original is a picture of the Spy class from Team Fortress 2 who’s smoking problem has become greatly exacerbated with a caption of the character’s catchphrase.
It was funny, but got even more so whenever a Microsoft Paint version was posted.
And thus Gentlemen was born.
As aforementioned, it originated on 4-chan like many others. 4-chan is pretty much the meme headquarters of the internet and even those that don’t generally do a circuit around the messageboard before getting really popular.
Stage Two: Spread
After being created, the newly born meme lurches off into the sunset to search for new minds to inundate. Sometimes this can be a slow, slow process that happens after many re postings and passionate arguments but at other times proceeds rapidly when new information comes to the forum.
This was the case with Gentlemen when this humorous calendar entry was posted:
Thereafter, June 5th became known as Gentlemen Day. Of course, Gentlemen was aided as Tf2 is a rather popular First Person Shooter.
The greatest impediment to becoming a successful meme is to be what is known as a “forced” meme. A forced meme occurs when someone sets out with the intention of creating a meme. Usually a meme is accompanied with a genuine story and tends to be funny. A forced meme has no story and is generally unfunny.
Stage Three: Memetic Mutation
Having insinuated itself into the group conscious the time is ripe for change. In the form of photoshops, drawings, and other manipulations of the original!
Gentlemen started out with those subjects closest to home- like most memes. Coming from TF2, the logical place to begin was with the other classes other than Spy, each saying one of their catchphrases while a class related weapon/item/beam fires from their open mouth:
From here it spread. Instead of pertaining to the game itself, new memes could be about literally anything. You have slight alterations of the original,
Stage Four: Death/Ascension
Of course, natural selection would be pointless if it didn’t… select… so, inevitably, something must die. Most dead memes are also old memes, though others could die due to a sudden change of feeling/cataclysm.
Gentlemen is not a dead meme, yet, so it won’t work as an example.
Chuck Norris jokes are an old meme, however, and dead. It will work splendidly.
The Chuck Norris Joke, for those of you who live under a rock but are not Patrick Star cause even he knows what a Chuck Norris joke is (of course, if you don’t know what a Chuck Norris joke is, you probably don’t know about Spongebob so this went right over your head), is a joke describing the incredibly awesome power that Chuck Norris wields. In joke format. Such as “Chuck Norris doesn’t push himself off the ground. He pushes the ground down.” Now lame, these were once the slug’s mug, the bee’s knees, and many other wonderful perversions of nature. They began on Something Awful forums when a thread discussing the wonder that is Vin Diesel metamorphisized into a Chuck discussion.
So what happened? It got old. The fun of memes is their dynamics and once something gets old it’s tossed aside like an old toy. But, unlike earthly deaths, a meme can be revived after death, to serve again in zombie servitude.
Some memes take the high road, though. They become as gods and sit above mere mortal memes. These, paradoxically, are usually old memes but they are so ingrained into the internet psyche that to destroy them would be to destroy the internet as we know it.
These memes can be considered ascended, shuffling off their electronic coil in exchange for an upgraded one with lots of RAM and memory.
Another sort of ascended meme occurs when a meme is incorporated into the item it’s based off of. This doesn’t guarantee the immortality of the previous condition as even the best games can fade from memory, but, in the case of a long, ongoing affair, it can sear itself deeply into your psyche.
Blizzard does this all the time. The most notable instance is when, in what I must assume is a fit of mad genius, the corporation included the achievement LEEEEEEEEEEROY! into the new WoW achievement system with Wrath of the Lich King. To obtain it, you had to succeed at the task Leeroy failed: killing the whelps. Then you get the nifty title Jenkins!
Relating It to Some Reading
For that rare internet denizen just drifting through, I would like to remind you that this blog is for class. As such, it has certain needs to fulfill, such as stroking my ego relating to readings done for the class. Which I shall do right about now.
The Galaxy Reconfigured from The Gutenberg Galaxy
McLuhan was a smart guy, make no mistake, and here he proves it by showing us how the electronic age changes us. For starters, everything is quick. Really quick. That takes some getting used to.
Everything’s changing, everything’s shifting, everything’s moving fast. And that’s where memes step in. They’re perfect for the everchanging electronic world. They evolve quickly, sometimes over night, they try to stay fresh and new, and they can even help us communicate.
McLuhan describes the modern world as an “age of mass-culture.” Everyone’s interacting all the time. Vast distances mean next to nothing- Australia? Japan? Britain? All are but a moment away. So how do we communicate amongst the masses? How do we develop our own unique culture? We don’t. I don’t mean that you should surrender yourself to the hive mind (though that wouldn’t be a bad idea and it would help further our my goals…), but that we need to create something that everyone can access, that everyone can change. Does that sound familiar?
Will There Be Condominiums in Dataspace?
Aside from asking the obvious, Viola describes dataspace as a place. He draws comparison to the sand Mandala.
Mandalas are abstract, unifying, and not bound by physical constraint. When finished, they are often destroyed. Meme’s are abstract by nature- much of their content is implied, external, or situational. Existing only in cyberspace, they are not bound by physical constraint either. Finally, like the sand mandala, when completed, they are often destroyed, preferably with fire.
Scott McCloud is a comic artist and here he challenges those of you who make comics: why not try something new?
This selection comes from Understanding Comics and it emphasizes how overlooked yet important the frame of a comic is, in an amusing comic. It can give atmosphere, add emphasis, and affect the perceived flow of time. Another topic touched on is the importance of an individual panel.
Now, I doubt many creators of memes have read this selection, but they manage to carry out his ideas. Memes are… chaotic and everything about them can be important. The frame, the passage of time implied, the atmosphere- a slight change could drastically alter the meme. Furthermore, they challenge commonly held values by giving completely unrelated and often nonsensical phrases and images meaning and value.
A Parting Shot Word
I always say it that way because no letter gets left behind on my watch
So remember, memes are important. They may look like, and actually be, toys, but they shape the way of the fledgling net. They hold more power then you can imagine and, someday, entire classes will focus around them… classes you may teach.