The 21st century claims ownership of the global propagation of meme culture. Alongside the development of Generation Z, the growth of memes has risen to influence all aspects of our lives – politically, socially, and psychologically. Life, as we once knew it, has seen a dramatic shift in dynamics due to the overwhelming presence of memes in our everyday lives. In more specific quantitative measures, memes have amassed in millions causing a universal effect across our world’s finest societies further encouraging its expansion.
While global cities like New York, London, and Singapore have been on the forefront of new technology, advances in healthcare, and overall economic growth for decades, the same can be said about the development of memes in society. But why? Perhaps, we can attribute these trends to the rapid increase of internet accessibility or the growing advancements in technology. Nevertheless, the definition considering a meme as simply as a humorous image or video is too generic; the power of the meme is more complex than first acknowledged.
Beginning with the creation of streaming websites like YouTube (2009), songs were considered as the very first viral internet memes. For example, viral songs in the early 2000’s like Double Rainbow Song, Nyan Cat Nyan Cat!, Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley), and Chocolate Rain (Sweet Like Chocolate Remix) rapidly grew to popularity within pop culture. Collectively, these songs reached hundreds of millions of views within weeks. Simultaneously, there was also an increase in popularity for videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger” (2007). In fact, as of September 2017, “Charlie Bit My Finger” has reached 855 million views sitting as the sixth most viewed non-music video on YouTube.
Moving into the 2010’s, the creation of social media platforms like Vine (2012) and Snapchat (2011) accommodated this growing trend with even shorter video features consisting of 7 and 10-second recordings. Shortly after the birth of “social media influencers” like Jake Paul and Rice Gum on such social media platforms, meme hearths were officialized.
While all mediums, songs, videos, and images have contributed to the exponential quantity of memes in the world, it is their effect that is most astounding. In the beginning, memes served as a tool to aid amusement and entertainment. Throughout its evolution, it is the inclusion of humor that can be attributed each individual meme’s virality. However, today memes have undergone the phenomenon of time-space compression. The pervasive appearance of memes across and within nations has actually brought cultures and communities closer together.
In fact, during the 2017-2018 school year, an Instagram account under the handle @this.is.eagle.country was launched. While the account consists of student-made, SAS-centric memes, it has evolved into so much more.
Since its creation, @this.is.eagle.country has gained just under 1,500 followers. In comparison to the official SAS Instagram account @samericanschool that has just over 3,000 followers, @this.is.eagle.country has made a significant amount of traction in student appeal within just one semester. With a regular posting schedule timed just as students walk onto campus and into their first blocks, @this.is.eagle.country’s memes pop up on every follower’s Instagram feeds, propagating one message. Although the amount of control the @this.eagle.country’s creator has on what he, she, or they post is brow raising, it is the power they have through their posts that triggers the most caution.
SAS is a small sample when observing the effect of memes in a population. Looking outside of SAS, the same effect of the power of memes on people are found evident. For example, the 2016 US Presidential Election sourced some of the most viral memes, arguably influencing and directing its outcome. Regardless of credibility or authority, memes are curated and crafted by virtually anyone in the world. In today’s new era of memes, to what extent are we malleable to their influence? Do we continue to permit the propagation of memes ignoring its long-term repercussions on our society?
Situated as frivolous internet jokes, memes may seem to bear no harm or danger. However, as memes begin an evolution into a worldwide network, connecting hundreds of millions of people with satirical themes and belittling messages, memes may soon stand as a threat. As memes change and evolve over time, it is vital that, as consumers and as producers, we do not overlook their power and effect on our lives.