All Broadway jokes aside, cat memes are the best of them all.
Flashback to 2007 with me. Akon’s Smack That has taken the radio by storm. YouTube has only just started to become popular. All the boys you know play Runescape. And then, one day, you discover I Can Has Cheezburger: the memebase.
It was the stone age of internet memes(which your mom probably referred to as “mee-mees” the first time she saw them). Most included pictures of cats, often photoshopped. We’ve lived through it all, folks: Nyancat, Bad Luck Brian, you name it.
All jokes aside, I remember the first time I heard the word “meme” refer to something other than a funny image shared between friends. I was a sophomore in college, sitting in a gen-ed psychology course. The professor asked us why schoolchildren place spoons underneath their pillows; we answered that it’s because they wanted to have a snow day in the morning. His next question was astounding(clickbait intended).
None of us knew where the superstition came from, but we all knew the reasoning behind it. In the same way, other cultural memes have existed forever, but the term was only coined by Richard Dawkins in the 1970s. Interestingly enough, this same thread of nonsensical nostalgia seems to continue in today’s widespread, easily accessible internet meme.
Consider, for instance, the Arthur meme:
Those of us who watched Arthur as children instantly recognized the screencap in this meme. He’s wearing his everyday costume, standing in front of his family’s pink house. But the idea that Arthur, an aardvark created to entertain children, clenches his fist in social protest to the treatment of a gorilla named Harambe, is ridiculous.
And we eat it up.
Half of the humor associated with memes pertains to the fact that they refer to events taken out of context. Let’s take another look at the evolution of the Arthur meme.
Here we have another layer of meta-meme: manipulation. Using the God-given tools of Photoshop, users have changed the layout of the image, either mirroring it, or erasing parts of it completely.
Obviously, most of us have heard the phrase, “steal like an artist.” True, we don’t usually associate art with memes, but bear with me.
Let’s take a look at Dadaism.
Have you ever seen anything more meme-worthy? Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) is a sculpture from 1936 created by surrealist Méret Oppenheim as part of Dada, the anti-art movement in post-WWI France. And yes – that is a cup, saucer, and a spoon, covered in fur.
Art is weird.
But it’s this same vein of absurdism that makes it so relatable. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who didn’t find the above image at least somewhat revolting. And what is a meme, after all, if it’s not #relatable?
Over eighty years later, the scripts have been flipped. Now every person with Photoshop and an internet connection is a creator, with the potential to create absurdist art and distribute it across the globe without leaving the luxury of a padded office chair.
Memes have become a post-modern artform. They are adaptable, sharable, and quick to create in a fast-paced society. The infinite flexibility of their structure continues to show the broad spectrum of their potential.
All this to say: a new wave of memes hits every few weeks, and we’re due for another one soon. Next time you’re scrolling through a social media feed, stop for a moment. Think about what the meme is saying, not just content-wise, but creation-wise.
If not, well…