Memes Connect And Reflect Culture

By Ryan King
Shield Staff

The internet is an incredible place filled with wonders, creativity and insight, yet it remains a giant discombobulation of organized chaos that we’ve all grown to love and hate.

Some of you may be asking; Just what is a meme? Some may describe them as an annoying fad for us millennials to waste our time on. However, based on my internet experience, memes are simply a platform from which individuals can describe their feelings or experiences; or simply to express their sense of humor. There are hundreds of examples: The rick-roll, Gabe the dog and caveman Spongebob, to name a few.

Now, it’s important that we understand that a meme can be made from almost anything. The election in 2016 had some truly ridiculous moments that are well worth enjoying:

  • Ben Carson claiming to have no recollection of running     
  • Jeb Bush’s “Please clap” moment
  • The accusation of Ted Cruz being the Zodiac killer
  • The bird landing on Bernie Sanders’ podium
  • President Donald Trump in general

And the list goes on.

Pepe Causes Outrage

This madness went over the line, however, when a meme known as ‘Pepe the frog,’ who was previously known and loved even by celebrities such as Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, was depicted advertising extremism and Nazi messages among other abominable themes. Perhaps no one would have taken it too seriously at first, but then a meme including Pepe was posted on Donald Trump’s social media. The meme was investigated and promptly branded a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League and banned for obvious reasons.

The internet went right back to its shenanigans afterward with Pepe still popping up occasionally. I was surprised to hear that a meme could have enough influence to warrant prohibition and I began to realize that we, for all of history, have always had the tendency to empower symbols. Religious symbols, company logos, signs and advertisements. All of them demonstrate power through what they represent:

  • The power to grab someone’s attention
  • Make them think

Humorous Or Insulting?

Memes are typically aimed from a humorous perspective and are normally harmless, but there are some who create memes specifically for the purpose of insulting or offending others simply for the entertainment brought by shock value. Shame on them, of course.

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In my opinion, I would say that memes are, and will remain, just a newer, more connected and sophisticated avenue through which people can interact with one another. Perhaps the only real difference in the way people communicated in the past, versus the way we do now, is the sheer number of people who can see what we write, or hear what we say.

In that case, perhaps memes don’t affect our culture so much as they already are our culture. They are what we say and share with the people we love, what we choose to show the world about ourselves, and how we feel inside. To me, that’s beautiful.