There’s a reason my Facebook friends scour my page daily. It is probably the same reason why some people haven’t deleted my WhatsApp number…yet – memes. They’re a topic that needs no introduction. I love to share them and here, I will attempt to explore this ubiquitous culture of humor.
“Memes” have always been with us. They probably just didn’t call them that. If you are old enough to remember vines, I’m sure you’d agree. I would say they go as far back as humans learnt to draw and caption, i.e., really really far back.
Memes come in all sorts of flavors ranging from shady, through sassy, to witty. All in all, they are mostly meant to be funny and relatable. Some are somewhat unconventional in being thought-provoking but most of us don’t like those. (Unconventional because ain’t nobody here to be provoked in thought. We’re here to laugh.) Some are plain stupid and gibberish but essentially, funny. Some are hard to catch immediately, and others take a minute to grasp. Sometimes, you don’t get it but depending on who shared it and their street credibility, you laugh. Some are esoteric inside jokes. Others are written in languages we don’t understand, especially, those coming from South Africa, but all in all, they achieve their primary aim of easing tense moments and relieving people of depression.
Memes are powerful. I think that arises from their simplicity. Simplicity is powerful. They’re arguably the biggest comic innovation after vines. They’re a reinforcement of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Usually, they’re relatable. I think that’s their second source of power. The pictures and videos used for creating memes are not always in themselves funny, but because we have a limited set of emotions, those pictures become meaningful when we associate them with something relatable.
Memes don’t just come to exist. There is a well-functioning supply chain that sustains the culture. For simplicity, I would argue that there are two levels in its hierarchy. Memers occupy the top level of this hierarchy, and on the lower level are the meme consumers. I know you probably haven’t heard about the latter before and that’s because in a classic, gatekeeping style, I made it up to complete my argument. Or, maybe, the term already exists.
Let’s define the meme supply chain levels. This might be an opinionated definition, but I think a memer is one who creates memes. You know that person who sees a story in a picture and puts the words and pictures together to give that story life? Yeah, that person is a memer. A meme consumer is one who just looks at them and laughs. My definition to this point is faulty because it leaves a missing middle. Where do people who share memes fall? I mean, those people who go on the internet with the sole purpose of hunting memes from their primary producers. Most primary producers double as sharers too. Hence, in order not to complicate this categorization, I would argue that the sharers are memers too. Meme consumers are usually the passive ones. There are some who don’t even react in the social media appropriate way when they view a meme. For example, on Facebook, you’re supposed to “haha” a meme, not “like” it for God’s sake!
So, what are you, a memer or meme consumer? I usually think of myself as a memer because I think I deserve it. I work too hard for this. I tried being a meme creator, but it took too much of my time and I decided to leave it to the called. I struggle to leave the calling behind, so I try a few times to caption my pictures in a meme-like fashion to induce laughter. That’s where my meme production ends. As for hunting for them, that’s what I should be getting a PhD in, not Mathematics.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge how much of a blessing the meme culture has been to humanity. Atop their primary motivation to make people laugh, they have made some people famous. I can name quite a few people who have become known because they were first made memes. An example is the dancing pallbearer group from Ghana, who were initially used as memes to represent (for lack of a proper description) “failed” situations. Whoever imagined such a simple act of innovating the act of pallbearing would lead to worldwide fame? Initially, they were just a bunch of ordinary dancing pallbearers in Ghana. Some memers added an upbeat soundtrack, others made them into static expressions, and boom, Fame! As I write, they’ve been interviewed on BBC and a host of other channels. I guess there’s a subtle lesson to be learnt here aside from the praise of memes: in whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability; innovate; think outside the box!
One day, the name “memes” will die. The pallbearers will dance with it, and some whole new (innovative) regime of comics will emerge. However, until then, we know that memes have served and continue to serve their purpose and have helped a whole generation to stay sane and happy.
If you’re not tired of reading by now, I leave you with a few final remarks:
- It’s pronounced meme, like in mean. (Any other pronunciation will take me to my early grave.)
- Memes are never about you unless they’re about you.
- It’s never personal unless it’s about Ghana Jollof.
- Don’t be so sensitive. Why are you so sensitive?
- They’re funny. You just don’t get it.
Do you have something to share about memes? Let me know in the comment section.