Let’s start off with a quick definition of the term “Internet meme” — pay attention class. We will use Wikipedia’s definition because this is not a research paper in which such a travesty would be so greatly frowned upon.
Internet meme: “A phrase used to describe a catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person to person via the Internet.”
These aren’t to be confused with viral videos, which also spread quickly but do not usually hold the Interwebz’s attention for very long, as memes do. Memes have been around since the initial popularity of chat rooms in the 90s, so some are almost a decade and a half old./
Need examples to illustrate what we’re talking about? We’re talking about things like Rickrolling, LOLcats and “All your base are belong to us,” to name a few of our favorites.
If you don’t know what these examples are, skip down to the contact info at the end and let us know, so we can set up some kind of Internet education seminar for you (OK, we kid. But, really, if you haven’t been Rickrolled you’re missing out)./
Let’s move quickly now to the point of the column: Where do these ridiculous, yet hilarious, memes come from? An uninformed guess might be that it’s merely word of mouth and the sharing of links online, but that’s inaccurate./
Once a concept is deemed hilarious by enough people, it spreads by word of mouth. But someone must be out there, constantly swimming through the Internet in order to find these things. Who are they?
They are the people who spend all their time on the Internet, of course, and where do they cyber-congregate? Forums — the one place that nerds on the computer have always felt at home and in good company (despite probably being alone at the computer).
And what do they amuse themselves with? Pranking each other, pranking the rest of the world and sharing funny stuff with each other.
Since these forum users are generally major computer nerds, pre-YouTube (and especially 90s) memes tended to be focused more on things which only geeks would find funny (like bad Japanese translations, e.g. “All your base are belong to us,” from an old 8-bit video game)./
Since most memes today are video-based, thanks to YouTube and the content is user-generated, it appeals more to the humor of the masses. The “Rickroll” is a perfect modern-day example.
The meme is a classic bait and switch that all started when a 4chan forum member posted a link to the new, highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto 4 trailer. Those who clicked the link were instead treated to the music video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” which is easily the best music video of all time . dare we say better than Beyonce’s?/
The trend quickly spread to the masses, and on April Fools Day 2008, all of YouTube’s front page “featured videos” section linked to the music video. During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade later that year Rick himself made a special appearance halfway through a song./// / /
Believe us, we could probably spend days or weeks nostalgically remembering old memes. In fact, this was a terrible column topic — we almost didn’t get this written because we spent too much time looking at a Dipity.com timeline of all the major memes in Internet history./
If you have about six hours (at minimum) to spare, we highly recommend visiting the timeline at http://www.dipity.com/tatercakes/Internet_Memes. Chances are you if you browse around, you will come to understand a joke or two you didn’t get before because you weren’t privy to a certain meme./
Columnists Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer are never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (O RLY?).