The Internet MEME phenomenon. So much talk, so little understanding.
The MEME is possibly one of the most misunderstood phenomenons on the internet. Especially by people that try to understand it to explain it to us, failing miserably (pic related).
The Doge would agree.
Memes can be powerful and terrible, they are credited to have helped elect presidents (or better have been elected president of the US) and shape public opinion.
Internet memes do work to an extent, and for sure they are at least responsible for some of the fake news circulating around social networks. But, to work they need to be understood by the target culture. Nothing new here, we’re just trying to restate the obvious truth that a lot of “social media experts” are missing.
Apparently Russia, China, the Intelligence agencies and in general all the shady flocks around the planet are striving to use memes to gain world domination. As in, if Pepe the Frog (below) could be used to sway public opinion and perception. Also: your mom would not understand Pepe the Frog.
Or people in South East Asia will probably have a couple of issues understanding that Dank Doge Meme we have as a featured image.
As we do not understand Lebanese Yoda…
You get the point. Memes are culture-bound more than anything else. Because they are CREATED by a very specific segment of a culture.
And they cannot really convey complex messages.
Yes, they’re funny and they can cause a couple of guys to shift their perspective a little on topic. But still you could not use the to spark an Arab Spring… or could you?
From what we can view (and we have a W I D E view) there needs to be more than memes if you want to influence people. If they were to be used as a weapon of mass influence, they had to go along some more systematic and organized information strategy. Memes alone will bring you nowhere (at least they’ll make you laugh).
But in elections. (in the US).
What is a MEME, anyway?
Everybody can do a search on Google, right? And casually land on the corresponding Wikipedia webpage, right? So We’re not going to insult your intelligence with the whole story about the guy who wanted to find a word to describe the biological behavior of a cultural element carrying information around “independently”, and that is also capable of evolving and had its own life cycle. You can go ahead and educate yourself.
For the purpose of this page it will suffice to say they are not only images. In fact they are not images at all, they are ideas. Concepts. That usually (on the internet) use the husk of an image (e.g. a still from a movie, a photoshopped picture. But they could be anything: text, sound, video, jokes) as a vessel to bring a message. And they evolve, they combine with one another, and they go extinct.
Or try very hard to come into existence…
BUT, Do WE like you?
Yes. We like MEMEs.
They reference to our culture, our past, hint at our expectations and represent our inner child. They can say what they want to say, which is incidentally what WE want to say. This is why we like them so much. MEMEs are ingrained into our culture but they also make it (at least they make our online culture and often spill over into real life).
MEMEs work because of that. They were once single messages, images with a given meaning (or texts with a specific purpose). Then magic happens, and they became vehicles for ideas. Their original meaning can be retained or they get re-defined and more meanings get bolted on top of the original one, sometimes reinforcing it, sometime subverting it altogether.
The Semantic Lasagna
Yep, that what it boils (broils?) down to: semantic lasagna… strata of meaning one on top of the other, with the bottom one designed to get you with familiarity.
They are a flag of anarchy, an indication of how something that was once intended to carry a concept can be used to convey something else altogether. Yet they are comprehensible…
…to a restricted portion of the audience they reach. And this is their limitation, they are LIMITED. They are funny, but limited. You need proper understanding of the parent culture to be able to decode, understand, laugh at and be influenced by a meme, or you could fall for the stalest copypasta of them all and believe that somebody is going to go all “gorilla warfare” on you.
Worse, you might think you could actually win hearts and minds with this trick. And those ain’t no Jedi mind tricks.
They’re just internet geek insider jokes that might happen to have an effect on people already inside that same pocket of internet sub-culture.
they’re not really new as a form of communication. When did we use images, catchy phrases and impact-like fonts to communicate over-simplified ideas? We really cant’ think of any (PSST: look to the right! ->)
And even if we did, we are pretty sure that stuff alone would not have had any effect if it wasn’t backed by actions and other stuff that gave it ground to stand on.
So you think you can win with memes? That they will help you wind the next political election? Think again. You might find you need strategy, communication plans, specialists, advisors and maybe some actual skills yourself…
…eh, maybe not. As a matter of fact, I might take that back. Definitely not.