Everyone has grown up with different memes in their childhood, although they were typically called “inside jokes” or “fads” at the time. We’re not going to discuss how the word “meme” is pronounced—that’s between you and God. Maybe it was a phrase your entire class would say when a student came to class late or just an annoying joke that just about every student in your school repeated for what felt like an eternity. With the advent of the Internet, inside jokes, fads, and/or memes are spread globally through countless social media sites and carry messages about everything ranging from the most generic comment about terrible high school lunches to thinly-veiled, politically-charged social critiques.
Most people hate memes. They pop up literally everywhere and if we’re honest, I may have unfollowed Facebook friends have been unfollowed due to their consistent posting of memes of Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob SquarePants. They can be funny for the first few days of their popularity but by the fifth day of seeing the same meme, we’re all a little done no matter how accurate they are. They get old, overused and soon enough forgotten. By others, they are completely ignored, or entirely misused by those who don’t actually understand how they work, typically mothers and fathers making an effort to be relatable.
Of course, there are some people that thrive from memes. Someone has to be creating them, right? An art student named Hannah Hill came to the spotlight when she cross-stitched an Arthur meme challenging the idea that cross-stitch is “women’s work.” Memes often turn political; in fact, there’s even a theory that memes were funded by politically-motivated persons and used to manipulate the presidential election this past November. The theory seems to be linking memes to expertly-masked propaganda used by the government to manipulate the sentiments of the people. Whether or not any of that is true will certainly be interesting for future historians to discover. Just imagine 100 years from now, when school children have posters hanging in their rooms of Arthur memes and we hang “Loose Lips Sink Ships” memes in classrooms.
Not to get too “tinfoil hat,” but it’s interesting to notice that while “Keep Calm Carry On” was originally a British motivational poster during World War II, adaptations of the phrase can be found in just about any chain store, merchandise website and on your mother’s favorite coffee mug. The whole world is full of small manipulations and memes are quite possibly the best carrier of ideas. Start with something ironically expressing frustration, maybe some sarcasm, and slowly escalate. Soon enough, you have memes that poke fun at poverty and suddenly we’ve become desensitized to cruel humor. Don’t despair though, this isn’t a “millennial-only” issue. The media has always and will always exist almost purely for manipulation; however, as consumers of media, we just need to be aware that we’re constantly bombarded with ideologies disguised as cheap laughs.