Memes

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

This is Bill. Bill helps the poor. Bill doesn’t put pics on the Internet of himself helping the poor. Bill is humble and kind. Be like Bill.

I have this week entered a world that until now I really had no idea existed. The world of Memes! And, mostly, I love it!  Now, I have seen a myriad of these clever little pictures accompanied by pithy text which offers all sorts of well-meant advice, sarcastic and snarky criticisms, warm and fuzzy animal talk, and I’ve discovered that a large share of these shared posts offer comedic relief from a world gone mad. Mostly.
I also discovered that it pays to keep up with the latest, as well as the most long-lived, of the memes as they have or will become a part of the argot (special language) of  the “Now” Generation. Scanning through hundreds of these cutesy (spoiler alert: some can be downright mean) pictures and videos was a lesson in today’s culture. In fact, it would not surprise me if some of our more forward-thinking colleges did not add a course in Thoroughly Modern Memes to its Freshmen curricula. The English Departments could require this course of all incoming students to insure that they could communicate well in the Safe Spaces provided by these “with it” schools of higher learning. That was an attempt at sarcasm which many memes depend upon.
Let’s look at some examples of Memes that I found on Wikipedia, a source which we all recognize as tantamount to Webster’s New English Dictionary, World Book Encyclopedias, or our father’s Lincoln Libraries of yesteryear.
The Dress: Caused an international sensation several years ago. Are its stripes blue and black or are they white and gold? It is an optical allusion that had people all over the globe chiming in.
Doge: Pronounced “dogue” is the same adorable Shiba Inu dog called Kabuso (just his head) in the center of brightly colored rays—radiating from text above and below—intended to be wise if not particularly witty.
Kermit: This lovable frog serenely drinks a cup of tea and utters the phrase “It’s none of my business.” Most of us could learn to adopt his attitude when dealing with folks whose opinions are, well, kinda ridiculous.
Then there is:
Grumpy Cat: My favorite of the animal memes. This fluffy little kitty is a philosopher with an unfortunate underbite which makes him look mad all the time. He often mocks celebrities who take themselves way too seriously. Word is that he is quite a happy cat in reality.
I also love the guy in the Old Spice video ad. “Look at me. Look at your man. Look at me.” This is a series that, while it becomes a bit tiresome after playing it about 20 times, certainly shows the power these images have when they are read and shared millions of times over.
I have awarded the “No. 1 Meme of All Time” Gold Medal to an image that could bring world peace and change the inhabitants of this planet if we would just “Be like Bill!” Bill is a cute stick figure who was designed to suggest that people in certain situations, as shown by Bill, can always be kind and considerate, i.e. the recurring phrase “Be Like Bill.” The creator of this wildly popular meme (there is hope for humanity after all) says that it is “a way for people to passive-aggressively call out social media behaviors that annoy them.”
Sadly, we should not be too surprised then that the little cartoon character with his endearing sock cap also brought out a large number of critics who said that the meme’s tone was mean-spirited and that it showed “a lack of self-awareness.” Oh, for crying out loud! I almost choked laughing at the idea that this sweet little guy named Bill could have something called “self-awareness!’ How is a cartoon character supposed to have Self-Awareness?   Shoot, I have no idea what these detractors of poor little ole Bill are trying to pin on a kid with no pants, no shirt, and no shoes. I mean, do you think he realizes that he is wearing nothing to cover those skinny little sticks of arms and legs, no garments, just a sock hat! Poor kid. But he sure is smart. And good. And kind. So, in those ways, “Be Like Bill!”
Memes. Kept hearing and seeing this term everywhere. Which is why I fell into hours of research; I have spent half a day combing through internet images, descriptions, and reviews, most of them highly biased, but some with reliable, straight-forward information–in order to understand this phenomena which may soon result in group-think along with a cryptic shorthand language which only the young with their primary Internet Education will use to communicate with.
There is plenty of information. Too much. I went back to Wikipedia for a definition. It is “an activity, concept, catchphrase, or piece of media that spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.” It also can make lots and lots of money for those clever enough to take advantage of the sensational quality of these memes, using them to Sell!
Aha! Therein lies the danger. Because Mimetics, “a study of information and culture based on an analogy with Darwinian Evolution” is an “approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer.”  Heavy. Hev-vee. In Plain Speak, I think that means that due to the Internet and Social Media we can expect society to evolve into a single worldwide MemeCulture which learns, communicates and marches lock-step to lessons, mores and morality taught by cute and clever cartoons.
I pray that “Be like Bill” is our guide. Sigh.

*All phrases in quotation marks are ripped off from Wikipedia sources. 
**Next week: The Internet Mob

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