In case you haven’t heard, the 69th annual Golden Globes will be held this Sunday night. For many viewers, that means keeping a score-card of the various winners and losers, or taking bets on how many jewel-toned floor-length gowns will grace the red carpet.
There’s something else I’ll be looking for this Sunday, and that’s a candidate for a new internet meme. You might say I have ‘memes on the mind,’ having recently become fascinated by them, although it took me some time to figure out exactly what they were, and how they were used online. According to Wikipedia, the word ‘meme’ is derived from mimeme, which in Ancient Greek means “something imitated.” In today’s world, the word signifies an element of culture which is transferred rapidly from one party to the next, and memes fall into that ambiguous category of communication ‘short-cuts’ which I discussed in my previous post. They can take various forms, including static images, animated gifs, or full-fledged video clips (such as ‘Rickrolling’).
Images are usually accompanied by relevant text, although this is not always the case, and the popularity of some internet memes seems to have stemmed from the clear dissonance between the image conveyed and the image’s caption. As an example, consider the popular Joseph Ducreux memes. Ducreux was an artist in France during the time of the French Revolution who completed portraits of both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. His work is notable for its obvious emotionality and the portrait de l’artiste sous les traits d’un moqueur, on which the internet meme is based, is actually a self-portrait.
The French Revolution saw a dramatic increase in the circulation of popular forms of media, such as pamphlets and newspapers. As someone who has studied this period extensively, I would like to think that Ducreux would appreciate his evolution into a twenty-first century meme. After all, Ducreux’s objective as an artist was to convey expression and personality in a way which could not be accomplished with traditional portraiture. In many ways, modern memes work towards the same goal, since they also strive to deliver emotions in one powerful punch.
The purpose of internet memes has evolved dramatically in recent years as their availability has expanded. While they were once used to convey a single thought or idea, they have now become increasingly complex. If you paid attention any attention to the internet in the past few weeks, you have probably noticed a slew of “Best Of” lists which included the top internet memes from 2011. Many of the more popular images from this past year carried a more serious message than in years past. The Occupy Wall Street and Pepper Spray memes reflect strong antagonism between various social classes, and are commentaries on the expression of power in twenty-first century society. Planking and Chuck Testa reflect the lighter side of memes, and I have become especially obsessed with the Spider Man memes, which are based on screenshots from the 1960s cartoon.
Past awards shows have provided a fertile ground for new internet memes. You may be familiar with Brendan Fraser’s strange applause at the 2010 Globes, which circulated the internet for months. Natalie Portman’s giggle during last year’s show was also quickly turned into an animated gif. You can see both Fraser’s clap and Portman’s laugh in this amusing College Humor video here.
For me, memes merge together two big interests: popular culture and internet culture (which in some ways are actually the same thing). I love that memes are constantly changing, making them a perfect platform for political and social causes. And I love how downright hilarious some memes can be, especially ones which employ surrealist humor.
This Sunday evening, we may well witness the birth of a new meme for 2012. While I’m unsure whether any meme will top the emotional punch of the Occupy images, or the random hilarity of Chuck Testa, awards shows are showcases for pop culture fads, and I hope this year won’t disappoint.
Readers: are you all ‘memed out’ after last year’s delicious offering of images? Or are you already chomping at the bit for a new selection of gifs to use on Facebook and online forums?