From the Classroom: Memes And You

| April 25, 2012
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Hey, Annapolis! It’s been a while. To misquote a popular song–”There ain’t no rest for the juniors.”

I–and, no doubt, most of the other 11th graders in the Annapolis area–have been inundated with schoolwork, plagued by thoughts of being rejected from every college in America and even some in Uganda, swamped with review for the Advanced Placement test, distracted by Facebook, bombarded with extra-curricular activities, and been preoccupied with making memes.

WHAT THE HELL ARE MEMES?

Good question! Memes (singular: meme) are a product of our generation the way rock and roll was a product of the baby boomers; the way tie-dye was a product of the hippies; the way tucking t-shirts into jeans was a product of the generation that inhabited the nineties (for which no one has bothered to come up with a name).

Memes are the product of every teenager’s desire for self-expression, sarcasm, and humor, combined with the pervasiveness of technology and this generation’s unique, slightly quirky culture, stemming from the fact that geeks are becoming slightly more mainstream.

Memes can take many digital forms–music can become a meme, especially if it’s as hilariously bad as Rebecca Black’s Friday, pictures, if they’re funny enough, can become memes, even misspellings of words “moar,” “teh,” etc, can become memes.

The one thing that binds memes together–they’re spreadable. And unlike rock music or beat poetry, anyone, with little to no talent whatsoever, can create a meme, share an existing meme, or even modify it and make it their own. They’re our own little inside jokes, yet everyone’s in on them, constantly adding and modifying and spreading and playing a part in the big viral party. Social media can vault the most obscure or ridiculous ideas to relative fame in a matter of days or even hours, and, impressionable as we are, we will repeat and glorify the phenomenon (the meme) until (soon after) we are collectively bored of it.

Thanks for the sociology lesson. So what the hell is a meme?

Someone creates something out of the mainstream, quirky, often crude, yet somehow relatable, and their peers spread it. Think of them as large scale bathroom stall drawings.  They’re always meant to be humorous, even if the humor is far-out, disgusting, or sometimes completely inscrutable. They’re often sarcastic, poking fun at hipsters or stoners or teachers. They’re often champions of the nerds (unsurprising, since they started as an Internet fad).

Generally speaking, memes are anything viral. A funny video, a la Friday or I Love Cats So Much, is shared so much via Facebook that it becomes part of the cultural lexicon. These videos are almost never good; if they are, it’s almost always by accident. Perhaps the key component for a successful meme is irony or sarcasm. Some (Nyan Cat) are simply inexplicable and are loved just for their weirdness. My Little Pony has somehow vaulted into popularity as a meme due to the legions of 20-year-old stoners (“bronies”) who find the children’s TV show ironic and cool.

Once they are incorporated into the lexicon, they are modified and parodied ad infinitum (for instance, someone might sneak Friday quotes into their everyday speech). Many are commercialized and turned into t-shirts, mugs, even iPhone apps.

Another, more specific connotation of “memes” (one that allows for more personal interaction, allowing someone to contribute to the hilarity without having to come up with something as original as Nyan Cat) is simply the Internet-age version of the doodled comic or funny photo caption. Meme-makers will simply caption a picture (which often relates to an inside joke) with an ironic phrase and hope enough people “like” it. Anyone with a computer and a quip can be an instant humorist.

Memes like this run the gamut from Condescending Wonka (which uses a photo of Gene Wilder to mock the self-absorbed and ignorant) and Joseph Ducreux (where one translates rap lyrics to high society 18th century English) to Dolan Duck (a crude and pointless comic featuring poorly drawn Disney characters speaking in misspelled English and killing each other).

That sounds pretty dumb. What does any of this have to do with Annapolis?

Glad you asked.

Teens in Annapolis, like everywhere else in the world, have been caught up in the crazy world of memes–and with good reason. As off the wall as it is, it’s unique, it’s definitive of our generation, and by golly it can be funny sometimes. And now, kids in the area are not only making school-specific memes, but rising to fame on hsmemes.com. Local schools like Annapolis High, Spalding, Broadneck, and Severn all have a presence here. I’m the founder of Key School’s hsmemes page, which I’m proud to say ranks 21st in the country for the volume of quips we post about our school with a sneering Willy Wonka as a backdrop. (You wouldn’t understand.) Private schools in Baltimore do even better–Park, Roland Park, Bryn Mawr, and Gilman have all cracked the Top 10 in the country at one point or another, with Gilman even occupying the top spot for a day or two. Yeah–Maryland is good at this!

No doubt any reader over 25 is shaking their head and failing to understand this quirky little fad. That’s OK–your parents didn’t understand rock n’ roll either. But yeah, this is what social media is busy doing when it’s not triggering revolutions in the Middle East. This is what we do when we’re not sailing or playing lacrosse or hanging out at Westfield. This is bathroom stall drawings writ large, brought to you courtesy of generation x.

And the funny thing is…we’re going to be running the country one day!

Stay cool! And check out some memes. Some of the humor might be obscure but people of all ages can enjoy some of the Condescending Wonka ones.

Best,

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Category: COLUMNS, From The Classroom

About the Author ()

Fish Stark is a 16-year-old Edgewater resident. He likes laughing, politics, and Reese's cups. His least favorite beverage is unleaded gasoline.His two novels can be read here:http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/First-Daughter.pdfand here:http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ConventionDRAFT1.pdfHis stand-up comedy and amateur filmmaking can be seen here:http://www.youtube.com/user/theoFishalfishstark
  • Superbob74

    The generation that grew up in the 90′s (that you said tucked their t-shirts in their pants) have always had a name, they are gen-x. I guess the Justin Beiber Haircut generation didn’t know that.