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The Confusing History of the Internet Meme

Lars HindsleyBy Lars Hindsley Tue 19 Feb 2013 3:22 PM EST | 2347 Views
What is a Meme?
(DL) — What is a meme and where does come from? Ask any person what a meme is and they will most likely either stumble through the question or struggle to articulate it's exact meaning.   In fact after reading this article, have some great fun with friends.  Pose the question "What is a meme?" and watch how a debate erupts as they parse the specifics.

So what is a meme?  It's a device for transporting an idea through culture.

Do you have an inside joke with a friend or lover?  That is a meme.  Have you ever played punch-buggy? It's when you see a Volkswagen Beatle on the road and then you get to punch softly the person you are with on their arm for identifying that car first?  That too is a meme.

Most see a meme as a commentary using various mediums. You can use still images, video, sound, text and of course combine them all.  

Combinations of text over static images are popular in many social networks in the present time.  Messages are often abstract, even confusing while others are specific.  Another quality of a meme is that it's shared, or meant to be shared with everyone.    It can be a shared expression, value or thought.  A meme can be an elusive concept, or a serious message. Most often meme's are funny social commentaries.   A meme can motivate a person or entity to action or preserve a message or meaning.

How does a Meme Work?
There is a creator and a replicator.  Meme's chaotically evolve from the intended message to a new meaning making them an uncontrolled entity once it leaves the creators hands.  Memes can be intended or spawn organically.  

The Meme History
The word itself is a hip version of an ancient Greek word, mimeme, 'imitated thing'.  Science author Richard Dawkins is credited with the meme's origin.  He sums up a meme as 'an unit of cultural transmission' making just about anything you can think of a meme.  It can be a phrase, an image, a sound a fashion or object of any sort.
Richard Dawkin's book The Selfish Gene was written in 1976 well before the Internet as we know it existed.  Yet it is the Internet that has made the meme an accepted part of today's culture.  In the early days of the Internet the first Internet meme of the Dancing Baby was a completely unintended phenomenon.

Classic Memes
Wow, can anyone really say they know which meme's are the best of all time?  Sure I can.  Here are a few. Some are immortalized on video through Youtube, others are images or text.

Dancing Baby (1996)

Perhaps the First.  In 1996, 3D rendered baby animation is passed through forums. In time it's used in mainstream media.

The Hamster Dance (1997/98)

A simple musical animation of hamsters dancing accompanied by a whimsical bluegrass yodeler (Whistle Stop by Roger Miller). Deidre LaCarte is credited for creating it to win a web traffic contest paying tribute to her hamster.  It was often passed around through e-mail and lives on to this day on Youtube:

I Kiss You! (1999)
Mahir Cagri of Izmir, Turkey, became an instant Internet celebrity promoting himself on a shared hosting site where he requested the company of women. He bypassed creepy with endearing cheesy monologue.  His claim to fame? Variations of dialogue, "I kiss you!" and "I kiss you back!"  Make no mistake, Mahir's goal was sex, inviting women to come to Turkey and stay in his home.  Yet his awkward cheesy style spawned the catch phrase, "I kiss you!" It's widely speculated that the character Borat in his broken English is based on Mahir.  Facts prove this to be untrue as Sacha Baron Cohen's prototype character auditioned and aired prior to Mahir's splash in 1999.

Star Wars Kid (2003)
A true accidental classic. Boy records himself, friends find recording and put it on the Internet.

Cats (Always)
Yes, in a word cats.  You can't place a specific time this began but at this point in time (2013), one of longest ongoing meme's are cats.  From iconic cats such as Grumpy Cat whom tweets and spawns viral videos at noxious speed, to videos of cats in action by every random cat owner on the planet.   Cat memes are perhaps the most widely recognizable meme today.

Fail (Always)
Also known as Epic Fail, this meme phenomenon also lives on to this day.  Think of it as America's Funnies Home Videos without the ear gouging bad jokes offered up by host Tom Bergeron.   Fail meme's are often videos or still photos of captured moments in time where something takes place that you can't take your eyes off despite off-the-chart failure in execution.

The Future of Meme
Meme's will come and go, but hopefully you now have a better understanding of the elusive meme.  One more thing.  Don't post any meme on my Facebook wall.  I hate them.  Now wouldn't that be something?  I create a world-wide phenomenon of people slamming my wall with memes just to piss me off?  Whoa.
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