Earlier this week on Modern Primate, Chris Menning made some bold assertions about memes. I’m going to jump into the fray here, because I’ve been Having Some Thoughts about this lately.
In looking at the memesphere as a whole over the past few months, I’ve been struck by how the memes that have been blowing up are very media/current events related. Maybe it’s just because this summer has been a perfect storm of major media events — Curiosity Rover, Olympics, the US Presidential election— but it seems like the memes that have gained the most traction over the past few months aren’t, as Menning describes them, “the types of memes associated with [the 4chan/Anonymous] subculture”.
Menning argues that plateauing search volumes for “traditional” memes indicates that popular interest in them is waning. One possible reason for that is because there aren’t that many “traditional” memes that have taken off recently. Take a look at Advice Memes, for example— the only new template that has taken off in any significant way recently is Overly Attached Girlfriend, and even that came off the back of Call Me Maybe (which is about a mainstream a meme as you can possibly get).
What isn’t plateauing, however, is media coverage of memes. In the past few months, mainstream media coverage of memes has boomed, and news coverage of memes in general has steadily grown since 2008.
It used to be that meme articles were the province of Gawker, Buzzfeed and the occasional TIME or NY Times piece explaining what a LOLCat or Ragetoon was. But now, it’s not just blogs that are engaging in a battle of “FIRST!!11!!” over the new hawttest memes ZOMG. Yahoo, E Online, USA Today, CNN, The New Yorker and a slew of others not traditionally part of the bloggy/internetty news world picked up on topical memes such as McKayla Is Not Impressed, Paul Ryan Gosling, #dangleboris, NASA Mohawk Guy, etc.
Furthermore, the news cycle for many of these was ridiculously quick. I keep pretty good tabs on the internet, and there are memes that were old news by the time I got to them because they broke in the evening US time (when I was asleep in jolly ol’ England) and had already gained massive momentum and media attention by the time I logged on in the morning UK time (#eastwooding was the most recent example of this).
While Menning’s article may have caused some disagreement about whether memes are “dead”, anyone who is paying attention to the world of internet culture will agree that the times, they are a-changin’. What we consider to be memes, who creates memes, and what sort of memes take off is shifting, and will continue to shift. And as Whitney Phillips has pointed out, no one really knows what the future is going to look like.