Internet Meme Content, a Theory

Internet Meme Content, a Theory

By: Dan Jeffers - Search Engine Optimization - 2013

After realizing that there was not a simple rule that would separate memes from non-memes, it was helpful to think of being memetic as a quality (or modality) that web content and behaviors may have to a greater or lesser degree. A particular piece of content can become more memetic, or possibly less. With that insight, I was able to isolate four aspects that tend to make something memetic. A huge bonus was that these qualities seem to align well with the general use of the term as well as Internet memes--implying that Internet memes are not something different, but rather a more visible version of the general case.

There are four qualities that, in my view, contribute towards something being memetic. Two are essential—without them something is not properly called a meme.

  • Imitation—memes are transmitted through imitation. Handing someone a book, or sharing an image may be imitative, but the content is not being absorbed through imitation. So an image, no matter how widely shared, is not a meme—though it can be altered, framed, commented upon, or posted as a response. All of these behaviors are imitative, and add to the memetic quality of the content.
  • Transmission—by definition, a meme is something that has been shared. Internet memes only become worthy of discussion if they are shared across some community or network.
  • Lack of authorship—though not essential, the concept of memes is oppositional to the concept of authorship. Though one person may have produced a particular image, it’s the community that circulates, alters, adopts, and manages rules for a meme. Many of the best known Internet memes come from communities that have a limited or absent awareness of the individual author.
  • Interpretive Rule-set—both in the production and interpretation of memes, a highly developed rule-set is in play. LOLcats require an understanding of the unusual grammar, as well as the patterns that provide the basis for the humorous interplay of image and text. There are a number of patterns, and modifying the patterns themselves are part of the game.