In 1976, Richard Dawkins first used the term “meme” in his book The Selfish Gene, defining it as an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. The internet has latched on to the idea of the meme with images, videos, and even hashtags that appeal to many different audiences. It is hard for me to go on Facebook or Twitter and not see a meme that somebody shared. Scrolling through the texts with my friends, half of our conversations are communicated through memes. With varied ideas and styles and vast amounts of people to appeal to, memes are definitely becoming a new way to communicate ideas and start conversations.
Memes are a popular way to communicate now because they make things relatable for the audience. Putting an image or video clip in conjunction with an idea or view point makes it easier for someone to understand the idea. Most memes are humorous in a way that it makes light of a situation that may be more serious, which in effect reminds the audience of the importance of the issue that the meme represents. Some memes like the “Old Economy Steve” or related ones reference the fact that life was easier in the “old economy” 30-40 years ago, whereas today’s economy makes it difficult for some college graduates to get a job. It takes on a humorous approach and then later makes the audience focus on the real issue.
A recent commercial for the Truth anti-smoking campaign used memes as a way to appeal to the college-aged audience and warn them of the dangers of smoking. Using a variety of memes such as the overly attached girlfriend, the “ermahgerd” girl, and a puking unicorn, they all conveyed the message of “It’s a trap!”, in each memes context (overly attached girlfriend represented the girls boyfriend’s ex or the ermahgerd girl holding rat traps) to the young people, making the point that even social smoking is still smoking, and that it will trap you into smoking on a regular basis. This is a good example of how a meme can appeal to a certain audience when used in a certain context. In this case it was to promote the dangers of smoking to the 18-25 age range. This also helps make the case for how memes have taken over how we communicate. The developers obviously understood that college students are familiar with memes in means of communication and that it is an effective way to make a point to them.
Overall, memes have allowed us to communicate in a variety of contexts and relate ideas to one another, while having either a broad appeal or targeting a specific audience.