Memes are another form of the quick satisfaction our society today craves online. It only takes a few seconds to look, read, and understand a meme online, which is why they often go viral very quickly.
Some memes require a prior knowledge to understand the humor. In his paper, “Meme Genres”, Limor Shifman explains, “…different meme genre involve different levels of literacy: some can be understood (and created) by almost anyone, whereas others require detailed knowledge about a digital meme subculture.” For instance, “The Most Interesting Man In The World” meme assumes you know the Dos Equis commercial where the actor says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis”. While it still may be humorous without knowing any background information, it’s meant to be a play off of the commercial. Variations of the meme always begin with “I don’t always…” and end with “…But when I do it’s…”
Shifman defines a genre as, “‘socially recognizes types of communicative action,’ genres share not only structures and stylistic features, but also themes, topics, and intended audiences.” The shared structures and stylistic features that Shifman mentions in “The Most Interesting Man In The World” meme, are the aforementioned beginning with”I don’t always…” and end with “…But when I do it’s…”.
Shifman further suggests that “[The] array of stock character macros provides a glimpse into the drama of morality of the First World of the twenty-first century: it is a conceptual map of types that represent exaggerated forms of behavior…these extreme forms tend to focus on success and failure in the social life of a particular group.” By this, Shifman implies that memes give an overly inflated twist to reality. Many people find these often-ridiculous memes humorous purely because of the fact that they’re ridiculous.
Many memes don’t require any prior knowledge to understand the humor. Those memes are usually still-shots taken of a person making a particularly expressive face, accompanied by a phrase that connects with the expression. These faces and phrases are often universally understood, which is what makes them so popular. There are many Kevin Hart memes circulating the internet. Most of the images were taken from a particularly popular Netflix comedy special he has, and either have the actual quote he said in the special, or text relating to the expression on his face.
Pronounced “Meem”, and not “Me-me”, as a friend of mine erroneously believed, memes are bound to stay popular in the years to come.
I’ll deny it if anyone asks me, but I even have a handful of my favorite memes saved on my phone for quick access (in case a conversation ever calls for one). Memes are annoying and hilarious; dumb and intelligent; realistic and ridiculous…the list goes on. Please tell me someone else out there has a secret cache of silly memes on their phone too…