Going Viral

Memes: are you a carrier?
Although memes have existed for decades, the Internet extends their reach and increases their popularity, making them a pervasive force in society.

By Amanda Proscia

Psy’s Gangnam Style became the first video on YouTube to reach one billion views – the same amount of views as if the entire population of Canada watched it over 28 times each – making it a world-wide anthem in 2012. Images, phrases and videos have regularly spread throughout culture infiltrating people’s lives like bacteria – a phenomenon called “going viral.”

Presently, viral sensations infect society via Internet memes, permeating Facebook feeds world-wide through frequent shares. Social media users are known to facilitate the spread of memes; however, memes have existed long before the Web.

How to pronounce meme:

Living the American meme

Like an amoeba, memes can easily change and adapt to fit their environment. Prior to the Internet, memes used other mediums to spread throughout pop culture. In the 1980s, most Americans collectively wondered “Where the beef was”; society embraced The Fonz’s “ayyy” with thumbs up gesture; bathroom walls had Jenny’s number – 867-5309 – written on them ; and people called each other just to ask “Wassssssup.”

In the 1990s, people flocked around computer screens to watch one of the first web memes – the animated dancing baby.

Memes are images or phrases repeated unendingly, sometimes with minor changes, and spread throughout society. In 1976, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins wrote, “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.”

It’s a small world (after all)

With the Web’s ability to reach many people at once, memes are like tentacles of pop culture – wrapping around individuals’ bodies and thrusting them into tomorrow’s water cooler talk.

Communication scholar John Allen Hendricks wrote that the Internet “is the only media platform that provides for many-to-many messaging, a key change that facilitates the rapidity and breadth of the transition of media viruses,” in his book Twenty-First-Century Media Industry: Economic and Managerial Implications in the Age of New Media.

image_by_xxspiritwolf2000xx-d6ig0dxEase of transmission through the Internet makes meme culture essentially inescapable. The phenomena range from Grumpy Cat, to Pun Husky. Currently, there are numerous meme generator websites where users can create their own caption for popular meme images.

Some hashtags evolve into memes, such as #FirstWorldProblems. The popular hashtag allows social media users to complain about every day inconveniences while acknowledging that these trivial issues only occur in privileged parts of the world. After going viral, #FirstWorldProblems has spawned a variety of other memes including Over-Educated Problems and 1990s problems.

With the scope of the Web assisting in their spread not only in American pop culture, but also the pop culture of the World, memes are here to stay. In the words of the tagline from the 1958 movie The Blob, the power of the meme is “Indescribable! Indestructible! Nothing can stop it!”


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