This past year or three, Facebook and Pinterest have introduced the online community to an intriguing phenomenon:

Internet memes.

According to the dictionary a meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture… A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.”

Lots of big words, all strung together.

Simpler words that stood out to me?

Idea. Culture. Spreads. Phenomena.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus.

Thanks Malcolm. Got it.

The weeping woman

The meme I chose for my graphic on this post, the weeping woman or just “the weeper,” has become the poster girl for transmission of a cultural critique: So many people in our society are pathetic whiners.

No one posts that picture with the caption, “My dad died today,” or “I have cancer.” That’s not what’s being transmitted.

Last week I created and posted a version of this meme that read, “Still haven’t seen Avengers.” I read one awhile back that read, “My relatives don’t know their wifi password.” So The Weeper is the spoiled brat crybaby making mountains out of molehills that we all love to hate.

But there’s more.

The reason this meme has resonated isn’t just because she’s the image of all the whiners we despise. The weeper, I’m sorry to say, is all of us—and she’s become our online, public confession. ‘Cause the truth is, I was a little bummed that I hadn’t seen Avengers yet. And it really is annoying when you visit someone and you can’t log on to their network because they have no clue what their password is. I, too, am lame at times.

A few other common memes:

Hey Girl… it’s me, Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling is the poster boy for this meme, which is essentially a pep talk coming from a dreamboat. If Ryan asked me to do x,y,z… I’d do it for sure. Sigh… Or, it just plays on rampant female fantasies about sitting down with Ryan to talk about whatever because he’s just dreamy.

To girls. Just ‘sayin.

Willy Wonka

 

A campy photo of Gene Wilder is paired with a patronizing comment designed to strip a victim of the last vestiges of their imagined dignity. This one resonates because Willy says what we’ve always dreamed of saying. He’s sarcasm incarnate.

He’s all of us without a filter.

 

Late Nite With David Letterman

Four score and six hundred and eleven years ago, when all we had was late night television, lived a man named David Letterman, a talking head who opened each show with a fresh comedy routine inspired by current themes and events in our culture. His best segments made his audience roar with laughter by pointing out the absurdity of what we already knew. They resonated, they indicted. And were re-enacted a thousand times the next morning around the water cooler in the office.

The water cooler has been replaced by Facebook and Pinterest.

David Letterman has been replaced by all of us.

Memes resonate because at some level, they tell the truth.

What do you think? Why do memes resonate? What’s going on?

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