For most of us, we can’t imagine a day without seeing a meme. We are constantly sending them, making them, or referencing them. As each year passes by, the increasing incorporation of memes as an essential part of pop culture has added more and more memes to our vocabulary. It’s rare that a conversation goes by where my friends and I don’t mention a TikTok that we saw last night or reference an old Vine (R.I.P.) that always makes us laugh. We could say what we actually mean, but mentioning a meme is just better.
Memes started to gain popularity on Instagram almost a decade ago, and they have now turned into the complicated and vast meme culture we know today. One of the earliest forms were rage comics (short comics using a set of cartoons). These simple cartoons have now evolved into a wide variety of genres, including cringey Facebook memes to obscure topics on Reddit. Today, we have memes in the form of videos, reaction pictures, GIFs, and text posts from Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and even TikTok.
More often than not, we can find memes spread all over our online conversations. Just now when I checked my phone, one of my friends had sent a meme in our group chat. These days, it’s not difficult to have a full conversation by just sending memes back and forth. The platforms that we get our memes from have allowed the memes to become such a vital part of our time spent on social media. On Instagram you can instantly share a meme with your friends through direct messages, and that applies to just about every social media app. You can start a conversation with a meme or reply to a text with a GIF.
There are a few explanations as to how and why memes have become a language. One reason is that in the fast paced environment that we live in, a meme is simply faster than words. If your friend texts you something funny, it’s faster to reply with a GIF or picture that has much more value than the overused “lol” or “haha.” The versatility of memes has also contributed to how they have become their own method of communication. One video or picture can express a message applicable to numerous situations.
As the number of memes has expanded over time, how they are utilized has also increased. Since their inception, they have progressed from simple cartoons to almost every form of media possible. They were originally made to entertain, but now, they can also be used to communicate.
arts & culture editor
Graphic: Ryan Rhew