Amplify’s Guide To: Memes
From Karen to Gangnam Style, Rebecca Black’s Friday and Evil Kermit, ‘memes’ have shaped the way we understand and collectively interact with the internet.
Coined in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, cultural ideas or ‘memes’ were no different than genes—concepts that spread themselves from brain to brain as quickly as they could, replicating and mutating as they went.
These memes were bits of cultural DNA that encoded society’s shared experiences, while also constantly evolving.
As Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms began to shape the online world in the late 2000s and early 2010s, videos, images and GIFs gained a massive new significance.
Our collective lingo and methods of communication shifted, and so did our way of relating to one another.
The ‘meme’ of today was born.
Typically humorous in nature, memes are images, videos, hashtags or pieces of text that are copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.
This rapid spreading is colloquially referred to as ‘going viral’, prompted by sharing and tagging from users that exponentially increases a meme’s possible reach.
Memes have punctuated daily life with their absurdity, breaking up the often intense and confronting realities of social media.
Like an inside joke shared with a million other people, or a type of shorthand between a hyper-connected group thinking in unison, memes transcend cultural boundaries to find common ground in our inherent sense of humour and playfulness.
Memes like #TheDress could come and go almost overnight, reaching and engaging millions of internet users, then vanishing into thin air.
Brands and organisations have caught onto the viral power of memes in reaching millions quickly: Netflix ANZ’s instagram is essentially a meme feed, there’s entire fashion brands dedicated to meme apparel, and marketers have found ways to slyly integrate branding into a meme’s message.
But as the internet evolves, so too does the nature of memes.
And that’s where TikTok comes in.
Arguably, the platform’s entire premise is dedicated to bringing memes to life, with its rapid success coming from its emphasis on viral content.
Users are encouraged to act out and perform different challenges and trends, reminiscent of early memes that appealed to a widely held common humour.
Trends are shared, repeated, slightly altered, and shared again, forming an online community and identity that is defining youth culture, music and fashion.