Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Emily Falica, Sydney Bidinger, Amy Cory and Jasen Davis: Deepstream on Memes

Posted by jasendavis on February 27, 2017


Part One: What Makes a Meme a Successful Meme? Is an introduction to how we view memes today. Without any prior knowledge to the history of memes or meme theories, you would automatically associate the word with the clips and theory in this video. The idea in this video is that the modern meme (starting in 1996) is a video or picture that goes viral on smaller forms of social media and eventually infects larger sites creating a legacy of jokes and laughs. It also offers examples of making monetary gains from your meme. For Grumpy Cat, she was able to build a kingdom with merchandise and coffee off of this popularity through memes. But when people try to force a meme to happen, it’s not funny and you won’t sell product from it. 


This brief clip sums up what we think of memes today, but Susan Blackmore’s TEDtalk “Memes and “Temes” goes through the history of meme theory, what a meme is, and its future. She first goes into the history of memes by explaining the principle of Universal Darwinism. While this seems off topic and odd, she says this is because memes or memetics is founded off this principle. The idea of passing certain things on to survive. This theory applied to memes; passing on an idea, picture, or advertisement for it to continue surviving in our minds. To better explain this she pulls this into the same theory discussed in Spreadable Media from Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene”.  Memes, just like viruses, latch on to one person and spread in the same way. She explains that biologically we are made to imitate and recreate ideas and thoughts, and this is what a meme truly is. Something replicated enough from person to person to be considered “viral”.  She then has us asking the question, what can we consider a meme? Her answer is definitely anything we can imagine, as long as it repeats itself in a manner that we always remember it to be exactly that. One of her non-internet/funny examples is hotel bathrooms. When we think of that idea we can all come up with a similar picture in our minds because hotel bathrooms imitate each other and we have spread this idea to be the norm.


Because replicating things has become such an effective way of spreading ideas around the world, Blackmore suggests that we have become meme generating machines. We use this theory to create jokes, advertisements, social norms, religion, and music. We know it is the most infectious way to spread things so we use it every day. But due to the evolution of memes taking to technology and the internet, she wants to classify them separately. Memes and temes (techno-memes) because they function different in how we communicate them from each other. She then says we should be prepared for another name to be created though, because there could be more advanced way of spreading through memes in the future. Or other universes might have more ideas as well.


In Dan Dennett’s “Dangerous Memes”, he starts off my further explaining the methodology between viruses and memes. But while we consider memes to be good things, he processes them as harmful to us and our general environment.  His idea is that these memes become parasites in our mind that cause us to hurt ourselves. He says ideas/memes are parasitic worms that will lead to our demise much like the parasites that hijack ants and cause them to commit suicide. He says this works for humans but instead of worms we have extremist views on religions and communism.  He argues that using memes to spread information is dangerous because we misuse this process. There are too many toxic ideas for memes to be good. He admits there are good and bad memes, but because we can’t annihilate all germs we should assume them as dangerous due to memetics being up to the morals of those viewing them.


Despite what Dennett says, memes have more possibility then he grants them to have positivity in the world. In part 4 of our stream, How to Make a Splash in Social Media, Alex Ohanian shows how pure and beneficial using a meme approach to spreading information can be. His story is about how Greenpeace, an environmental group, ended whaling in Japan by using meme spreadability. They chose one whale to track and protect and let the public name it. While there were many serious names, the one odd name Mister Splashy Pants, won. They name wasn’t the only winning aspect, so many people voted for this name that it became a meme and spread rampantly across the internet raising so much awareness that the Japanese government called off whaling missions. This shows that while memes can be used for negative things, they can also be used to greatly improve things around the world. It all depends on who is spreading the information.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


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