FUN FACTS | December 27, 2017
Let’s start with the basics: it’s pronounced ‘meme’, as in ‘cream’. Not meh-meh, not mee-mee – just meme. Internet sensations, videos, images, phrases and concepts can become famous overnight, sweep the entire nation (and even the world!) before seemingly disappearing into oblivion, only to resurface years later.
From Pepe the Frog to the very first meme ever created… Here are some things you may not know about Internet memes!
1. What’s in a name?
Where does the word ‘meme’ come from? What does it mean? As a matter of fact, Richard Dawkins (yes, the biologist) was the one to come up with the word in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. His definition of meme is: ‘an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture’ and can be applied to anything from ideas, beliefs and music to, yes – Internet memes.
However, one main difference between Dawkins’ original definition of memes and the spreading of Internet memes is the fact these are deliberately altered by human creativity, instead of mutating by random change and/or natural selection as is the case with ideas and beliefs.
2. The First Meme Ever
What was the very first meme? This question is incredibly difficult to answer since some memes might pre-date the Internet (when you think about the original definition of the word ‘meme’.) If we’re discussing Internet memes specifically, it remains fairly difficult – after all, how do we know that the first meme that went viral is also the first meme that was created?
However, the most likely contender for the ‘First Meme Ever’ title is the Dancing Baby. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, that’s because it went viral in 1996. It’s an animated GIF of a 3D-rendered baby dancing the cha-cha, and takes you deep into the Uncanny Valley. It’s honestly horrifying.
3. Pepe the Frog
Pepe the Frog, created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie, has gone through a resurgence in popularity in the past few years. While most memes using Pepe’s image have been fairly innocent (in true Internet Meme fashion – who can forget the abundance of absurd Rare Pepes?), some have taken a darker turn.
Pepe (the poor thing) has been added to the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols. (Where he now sits on the same level as the Swastika, the infamous Nazi symbol.) This is because alt-right, racist and anti-Semitic groups have taken to using Pepe’s image to create their own defamatory memes, which have spread on the Internet.
Has this ruined Pepe forever? A little. However, the ADL has stated that most memes of Pepe are not racist or defamatory, and that innocent memes will not be considered hate symbols.
4. Mr President
How far will people take an Internet meme? Pretty far, as it turns out. Harambe, the Gorilla who got shot at the Cincinnati Zoo earlier this year, became so popular that some people went as far as voting for him in the 2016 US presidential election. (Some claim as many as 10,000 people wrote Harambe in – but we can’t say that’s true, Fortunately)
5. How many memes in the world?
Technically, there is an infinite number of memes on the Internet, as new memes are being made up every day and pre-existing memes are constantly being updated. They’re literally so popular that they have become uncountable!