Meme culture growing in absurdity

Josh Santiago, Staff Writer

I came out to have a good time and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now.

With the power of the internet, it seems as though jokes are being cycled at an alarming rate.

A meme is defined by Google as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” On the internet, it’s that specific joke accompanied by the same picture each time that somehow gets thousands of likes on Facebook.

Everyone has seen it happen. Maybe it’s on Facebook, Tumblr or other social medias. “Grumpy Cat? That sounds funny.” People try to make up their own, and it’s all a bit overwhelming until it all suddenly stops. You no longer find the cat funny, and move on to some other joke about Luigi or some frog someone drew in Microsoft Paint.  A week later, you see Clorox wipes or Honey Nut Cheerios use the grumpy cat meme on their Facebook page and you feel … embarrassed. Like you can’t come to terms with the phrases everyone used just last month, and you cringe. This is internet meme culture.

Memes are like the hydra of the internet. Kill one joke, and two more appear. But it’s not the process itself that’s strange. Jokes get old all the time; it’s the rate at which it happens.

While “hoe don’t do it … oh my God” and the “smudged handwriting on hand” meme are in full force as this article is being written, they will already be played out and overused by the time it’s printed. They all got old about a week ago. Any and every reference to memes are just going to be in vain; the speed at which memes present themselves is too large to predict. That’s just how memes work.

The truth is, it is impossible to reference new memes without guessing blindly. The amount of memes have exceeded 9,000 many (moon) moons ago.

Why does this mysterious cycle happen? In short, the “overproduction” of a meme is what kills it. Because a meme’s sole purpose is to be easily manufactured and recreated by anyone using the template, everyone tries to make the same joke. The lack of originality is what causes people to not appreciate memes.  This, combined with the fact that the jokes themselves aren’t very funny to begin with, starts the death of a meme. What’s curious is the lifespan of current day memes.

For example, it took the infamous “doge” meme seven months to die down, peaking in December 2013, before plummeting down after such reign in July 2013. This a respectable time for a meme: long enough for people to laugh, and then proceed to absolutely hate the joke after a matter of months.

But current day memes experience a much more concentrated spike. Take Katy Perry’s “Left Shark” for example. It rose to meme status just days after the Superbowl. But yet, interest dropped off completely within the next month. The controversial dress color was interesting for about a day before it was settled and the population moved on.

And yet there are stranger cases, such as music memes. Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” (better known as the “mmm whatcha say” meme) hit meme status when TV Drama “The OC” used it as unfitting death music for one of their main characters in 2005. The song had a revival by pop artist Jason Derulo in 2010, who used the Imogen Heap sample in his single, appropriately titled “Whatcha Say.” And recently it hit a revival of some sort, thanks to Tumblr’s “fandom” side, using it for traumatizing death scenes in their favorite shows.

As Tumblr user fiantodurri wrote in a text post: “the mmm whatcha say meme will never die because when it dies we’ll have to play mmm whatcha say.”

A similar case is the “rick roll,” wherein which it will always be mildly annoying to be redirected to Rick Astley’s 1987 classic. These two memes have stood the test of time, where it’s consistently at least slightly humorous every time. Other memes,  such as the idea of “trolling” and “rage”, have been incorporated into contemporary language, but the images associated with them are shoved into the abyss of cringe. However, these cases are extremely rare, where the joke transcends meme status and into cultural phenomenon.

The reasoning behind this is the source of said memes. Popular website Reddit has a very concentrated set of memes. It’s not uncommon for “Sudden Clarity Clarence” to reach the front page today, despite originating back to 2011. But for memes on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, where the format is not limited to “funny picture + impact font”, their lifespans are significantly shorter. As a trade-offs, the jokes are typically much more diverse, ranging from plain text, to hash-tagged tweets  to the entirety of “Uptown Funk”, Tumblr and Twitter memes  have much more variety to them. But because of their userbase, the memes become less funny faster and before long, you find yourself deleting any old posts that mention the meme out of sheer embarrassment.

The truth is, overall, memes are a reflection of the short attention spans of internet users everywhere.  To disregard a meme because it will be cringe-worthy later is like not drinking milk because it will expire. There’s nothing anyone can ever really do to stop it, so the wisest choice is to just revel in current memes as a whole, not worrying about the future of humor.