This month we’re going to take a look at memes; those wonderful “viral ideas” that get passed around online every day. Let’s start by defining just what a meme is. According to Wikipedia:
A meme (/ˈmiːm/ meem) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greekμίμημαpronounced [míːmɛːma]mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαιmimeisthai, “to imitate”, from μῖμοςmimos, “mime”) coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.
A meme can be pretty much anything. But, in our case, we’re going to focus on those that propagate online and are generally humorous in nature. An “Internet meme” generally takes either a graphical or video form. Video memes such as Gangam Style, Happy, and possibly my favorite, the Lawrence Public Library’s Harlem Shake at a stuffed animal sleepover.
You may not find a particular meme funny but that’s the nature of humor. However, many times I’ve found that my not finding a meme funny, is based on the fact that I don’t understand the context or backstory of the meme. In those cases the Internet Meme Database is a great help. For example, if you didn’t understand the video I embedded above, doing a search for Harlem Shake there will explain to you the source and the context.
However, since video creation is a bit more work than this format will support, let’s focus on creating image-based memes.
Typically, image memes start with a base picture and text, that you can customize to fit the idea you’re trying to get across. For example, the above example is taking the line “Brace yourself, winter is coming” from Game of Thrones, and turning it into a warning that memes are coming.
This next one plays on a “Clean all the things” meme (relating to housework) and instead encourages you to meme all the things.
There are several sites you can use to create image memes. The one we’ll be focusing on is Imageflip’s Meme Generator.
Once there, you can generally create your own custom image meme in just a few steps:
- Choose which image you wish to start with. You can either scroll through many of the most popular images or search (on the right.)
- Check the name of the meme you’ve chosen, that usually gives you a good idea as to what the text should start with. For example: this one is titled “one does not simply”.
- Enter your top and bottom text in the fields provided. Text will automatically resize to fit but don’t go overboard.
- You can then adjust the color and size of your text. There are also some more options (like font choice) under “Advanced options.”
- There are a few other buttons over your preview which you’re welcome to try out.
- Click the Generate Meme button.
Once you’ve generated your image the popup window will give you the ability to grab the URL for your image to embed or link to it, or automatically send it to various social media platforms. If you want to download your image click the “Go to image page” button. There you’ll find a version that you can right-click and save to your computer.
One thing to keep in mind, similar to advice I give when it comes to twitter, you’re trying to say a lot in not a lot of text. So please keep in mind that when creating such memes, there’s always a chance that someone won’t “get it” and maybe even be offended. In other words, memes such as these aren’t always appropriate.
- Investigate the Internet Meme Database. Chances are there’s a meme you’ve seen in the recent past that made you go “hmmm.” Here’s your chance to figure out why people find it so amusing.
- Head on over to Imageflip’s Meme Generator (or find another online tool) and create an image-based meme or two. We’ll leave the subject matter up to you but if you can tie it to something in your library that would be cool.
- In your blog post let us know what you think of memes and share the ones you created. Some things to think about:
- Is there a meme you find particularly funny? Why?
- Is there one you just don’t understand and feel you never will?
- Can you see a use for such images by your library?