Regardless of your brand of humour, sooner or later you’re bound to come across a forward, or perhaps a link to some crazy website that tickles your funny bone and/or appeals to you in some way or the other… And if you have instinctively clicked on ‘forward’, or shared that link with friends, you may have been responsible for inadvertently propagating a meme (pronounced ‘meem’).
Simply put, internet memes are spoofs, jokes, videos or ‘whathaveyous’ that — more often than not — achieve inexplicable fame when a critical mass of users finds them to be either amusing, quirky, nonsensical or revolting enough to pass on. Urbandictionary.com expands the definition to include “pathetic stuff that fills you with vicarious despair”.
Incredibly viral in the way they are propagated, these memes could be in the form of a website, image, video or even a phrase that spreads like wildfire on social networks, online forums, image boards and through emails.
“In its simplest form, a meme is something that captures a sliver of popular culture,” avers Shantanu Adhicary, a software engineer and meme creator. “Often it is in the form of a funny take on a person, an event or a thing that has captured the imagination of the people at that point in time.”
Recent memes that became instant hits were based on the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The unexpected star of the event, however, turned out to be the cute little flower girl who was captured by a photographer as she stood frowning besides the newly weds when they stepped out to appease the gathered crowd with the ‘Royal Kiss’.
Within days, the child was morphed into the most insane of photographs. One picture displayed her plugging her ears with Justin Bieber in the background. And now, she even has her own Twitter account (@FrownFlowerGirl) that has over 40 different versions of the meme.
Another of the more famous memes involving the kid includes an image in which she is resting her chin on the table that seats President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the national security team while they watched Operation Abbotabad from inside the White House Situation Room.
And then, how can Obama and Osama be ignored? Immediately after the US military action in Pakistan in which Bin Laden was killed, the interwebs were flooded by memes based on the incident. One instance included a passport-sized photo of the terrorist superimposed with bold text that reads, ‘World Hide and Seek Champion — 2001-2011’. And then there’s a very well-edited video that shows Obama throwing a triumphant kick and punch after announcing the death of the al-Qaida chief.
Closer home, one of the most popular memes is based on South Indian ‘Superstar’ Rajnikant. Anyone familiar with the phenomenon will know that there is absolutely nothing that Rajni kan’t do. But while ‘Rajnikanth runs until the treadmill gets tired’ and ‘Rajnikanth can delete the Recycle Bin’, his fame on the internet — rather the meme surrounding him — is derived by an almost identical wave of sheer nonsense originally attributed to Hollywood’s Chuck Norris.
Indian netizens took those ‘Chuck Norris Facts’ and adapted them for Rajni, and now, like a hydra that will not be subdued, the legend of the Indian actor continues to grow with more local additions to his amazing exploits.
PURR-FECTLY FUNNY CATS
Interestingly, one of the oldest and most popular memes doing the rounds of the Internet is not based on people, but on cats commonly known as LOLcats (Laugh Out Loud cats).
For more than a few years now, netizens have been uploading pictures of their pet felines in awkward positions or with cute expressions accompanied by captions that are fraught with exaggerated spelling errors.
Icanhazcheeseburger.com, for example, showcases hundreds of lolcats like a Siamese cat inside a fridge with caption, ‘Leftover lolcat, still purr-fectly good’ and the terrorist-suicide-bomber LOLcat posing with time-bombs and a caption that says, ‘I can haz 72 virgins’. “LOLcats are funny because well, cats are funny things,” says Adhicary. “Add a ‘kapshun’ and they become even more awesome.”
Soon after the cats, there were LOLdogs and other animals who also spoke grammatically incorrect English. Some meme-makers — who didn’t like cats, dogs, spelling mistakes and faulty grammar — created a new series ‘I am an anteater’ that had captions decidedly written in proper English to distinguish them from the other speaking animals.
And then there is Advice Animals that Saad Akhtar — author of webcomic http://www.flyyoufools.com — says is his favourite meme. This gag pairs careless advice along with animal icons. So you have Foul Bachelor Frog whose raunchy lifestyle strikes a chord with most single men. The meme consists of a photo of a frog on a coloured pinwheel background with quotes like ‘No milk. Vodka Cereal,’ or ‘Bedtime, move shit to desk. Daytime, move shit to bed’.
“Advice Animals are popular because they deal with behaviours that might not be acceptable in society, but its fun to know that other people behave in the same way,” Akhtar says. And users are encouraged to write their own lines on various templates at http://memegenerator.net/instances.
KNOW YOUR MEMES
But if you’re looking for newer memes, aficionados recommend 4chan, an image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images. “4chan really kickstarted the meme trend,” says Chennai-based software engineer Ganesh Prasannah whose source for the latest memes is Reddit, a social news website.
“It’s a place where people appreciate memes and also where many memes become known to a wider audience,” says the active Redditer.
Meme fans and makers also have dedicated blogs and websites to secure the future of their creations. http://www.KnowYourMeme.com, for instance, has a profile page to document the vital statistics and history of every notable meme that ever existed. So far, it has over 800 entries, one of which is the famous ‘Hitler Finds Out’ video.
In 2006, satirists started using a video clip from the 2004 German movie Downfall to superimpose their own subtitles. The scene features a furious Hitler lashing out at his generals in a bunker. One gag shows the Fuhrer angry because he finds out his ‘Xbox live account has been terminated’, while in another he’s angry cause he finds out that Michael Jackson is dead. “It got repeated so many times and in so many ways, it reached the point where you don’t even have to watch the video,” Akhtar says. His own version has Hitler angry because ‘he finds out Rakhi ka Swayamvar is fake’.
And then there is Twitter, the microblog that has its own version of a meme in the form of ‘trending topics’, which can be a word, phrase or anything that is tweeted and retweeted multiple times.
To aggregate some of the funniest tweets, Nirav Sanghavi — founder of BlogAdda, a community of Indian bloggers — created the meme #perkytweets that archives humorous tweets posted by users. “Humour is the single most important thing to be successful in terms of sharing on social media and the internet,” Sanghavi says.
And it’s true; the world wide web would be boring without its quirky humour. So the next time a friend sends you something insanely funny, you could with a simple click be part of geeky popculture.
This story was published in Times Crest