The Many Sides of Meme Culture
You may have scrolled past a fresh meme or two on your way to work today and chuckled to yourself thinking “that’s so me”, or “classic Karen”, maybe even going as far as to actively tag your friend in the hilarious image. Knowingly, you are fueling the imminent growth, lifetime, and evolution of this impossibly funny meme to the point where it will soon become either globally recognised, or dead before the end of the day.
It’s important to note that all memes have a particular origin of meaning or truth, whether that be from pop culture, news and current affairs, internet subcultures, TV shows and books, or possibly a category of its own, 2020. The type of memes, and content for that matter, that you might see on your Facebook page is not the same as what your brother might see, or your colleague, or most certainly your Grandmother (yes, she loves memes too). How each of us read and interpret these messages is vastly different from generation to generation.
The most common factor across all of the memes, which makes you laugh at the cost of housing, the same as your grandma laughing at a picture of a woman trying to take a selfie with a landline, is that each of you can relate to the meme.
Internet memes evolved in the mid-90s, mostly on small internet forums in the form of short clips, which then evolved into more complex gifs and video memes as the internet evolved. This means the current generation of internet users (everyone) have twentyish years of memes to refer back to and improve upon. There are now university courses out there which teach the study of meme culture, and even how to make your own viral images. There are admins and accounts who are paid millions of dollars a year to generate memes, some of which have the biggest number of followers on the internet, only continuing to grow (see; @TheFatJewish or @BrownCardigan). They’ve been around long enough for us to establish the most iconic and funniest, some would even go as far to say timeless, memes that keep us coming back for more.
It’s always been known that a large percentage of memes are formed on the basis of dark humour, much like most forms of jokes in the comedy world. Dark humour has always been present, where a joke is so horrible in it’s sense, it becomes funny. However, the speed at which memes spread, and the millions of people they can reach in a matter of hours, becomes unnerving and a point of concern. Memes don’t come with disclaimers on the side, or a chatbox explaining to you what it means when you don’t get it the first time. Memes can be extremely offensive to many, taking aim at different cultures, religions, groups, race, you name it. In a time where people are struggling to keep their own mental health intact, a single meme can do more damage than any amount of words.
They say a “picture paints a thousand words'', but how are you supposed to know what words have been painted by a meme which was born out of a small subculture in the dark corners of the internet, and has now presented itself on your Facebook feed. To be realistic, you don’t interact with memes you don’t understand or think are funny, and the Facebook AI will take note of this and make sure you never see something so outrageous again. This can be a particular issue for brands who have a presence on social media. For example, when we are using our personal accounts, we choose not to interact and respond to messages we don’t understand,
however, for businesses and brands, it’s their only option if they want to be seen as responsive and understanding of their audiences.
A brand's involvement with memes can be placed into two categories, either sharing, or responding. For many brands, neither of these options are included in their social strategy, nor do they have to be. The posting or sharing of memes as a brand can be one of the most effective ways to communicate with audiences and spark engagement, and by doing this, you also have complete control over which memes you choose to share (although internally deciding on a meme that pleases everyone is a whole other problem). The second option is to not share any memes, and instead, let the memes come to you. It doesn’t matter if you have a younger or older audience, everyone is using memes as a form of communication and they will comment on a brand’s social post/ad accordingly.
The tricky part is when it comes to community management as a brand, knowing when to respond. Ultimately, it’s case by case, but choosing to engage with “good” memes posted by your audience could very much give you the audience’s tick of approval - if done well. In saying this, approving a ‘good’ meme means you must know where it originated, all possible meanings behind symbols that are used, and in what context it’s being used. Likewise, if an inappropriate meme lands itself in the comments section, an informed decision should be made about hiding or deleting the comment.
So, whether you are scrolling past a great meme on your way to work, or managing a comments section full of dank ones (please google this reference), remember to interact with the utmost of care, and only spread the best.
Isabella Gray is the Content Manager at Resolve Content.