Millennials and Generation Z alike have the future in their hands. With the progression of humanity and the fate of the world, soon-to-be realistic endeavors that the entire population must face, a large group of these people have resorted to a source of humor to ease the burden – memes.
The term meme was first coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins wrote that evolution depended not on the chemical basis of genetics, but on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission – the human gene. To Dawkins, the meme was that self-replicating unit – but with potential in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.
So how did memes come to where they were today? First, we need to look at what is widely considered one of the first memes – a display of culture that started in the skies of World War Two – Kilroy. “Kilroy was here” was an American cultural expression throughout World War Two. To many Americans, Kilroy became not only a graffito created for frivolous purpose, but a cultural emblem – a display and symbol of excellence. After World War Two, however, Memes appeared to go away.
Recently, however, memes have picked up steam. With accessible technology created over the last 20 years, memes are here to stay. “They bind a generation of people together under a common appeal – humor,” said sophomore Justus Zemberi. Zemberi is not by himself – many students recognize the prevalence of memes, especially ushered in by social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
To many people, memes are everywhere – you cannot go a day without finding one while scrolling through your feed. But memes have changed. What used to tie people together, now divides them. The shift in the use and the way that memes have presented have divided us, and the satire, sadistic nature of many have caused controversy.
“Although most memes are very funny, sometimes what has become a meme isn’t even funny, and just plain cretinous,” said sophomore Eli Vuckovich. This change has been well document, as memes themselves have consciously documented the shift from funny to dumb and potentially offensive.
So why is this important? Memes are changing our lives without us even knowing it. Memes played a chief role during the 2016 presidential elections, as memes depicting candidates such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders were at the forefront of thousands of peoples first interactions with national politics. Depictions of Trump as an ear of corn, Cruz as the Zodiac Killer, and Bernie Sanders as a bird lover helped educated young voters and draw them into the polls, while at the same depicting others in a negative and potentially swaying the opinions and votes of thousands of young Americans.
“For the most part, I received a lot of my political news from social media,” said sophomore Mitchell Steiler, “accompanied by those facts, were funny memes!” Steiler is one of many who have welcomed the idea of memes into society, and many experts anticipate memes undergoing a further rise and playing a bigger role into mainstream culture.
On the other hand, memes also help promote business and new things. As the Battle Royale game of Fortnite captivated the nation, memes were there to greet the emergence of the high profiled game with a series of memes that further popularized it with online users.
Although memes have potentially become something that they weren’t intended to, they have changed the way that many people live life. Memes have become mainstream and will only play a larger role in American society for the foreseeable future. However, it is up to all of us to decide if we want to combat or welcome this transition, but memes are here to stay nonetheless.