When I initially proposed this article, my editor advised me that “most of our readers know exactly what a meme is”. Well, yes. And no. You see, while most people will know what a meme is in terms of Internet slang, and a fair few will also know the denotation of the word. However, I feel it is worth explaining just what the difference is.

In terms of Internet slang, a meme is an “Internet joke”. Duh, right, we know this. There’s a culture around them too – they’re not simply infectious, but foster a culture that lets the idea and development of memes thrive. Depending on your stance on memes and the people that generally associate with them (not always the sharpest knives in the drawer, if we’re entirely honest), this is either fantastic news or a bigger crisis than the Ukraine/Russia situation.

The other side of the word, the denotation, is this: “An element of a culture or system of behaviour that is passed from one individual to another by imitation or non-genetic means.” Thanks Google. To break that down, our memes are the things we do and imitate from other people. It’s learned behaviour, in a nutshell. You see someone else doing something and think “Hey, that’s cool, I should do that too!” Of course, it’s not always as clear cut as this; sometimes these memes are spread as a means of survival. A meme might well be a saying fostered by certain people – a governmental slogan adopted by the people, for instance. Our memes are simply learned behaviour imitated or passed from others.

So, to put it into perspective: one version of a meme is the development of the human mind adapting in every possible aspect to the world around it. The other is a slew of crude internet jokes.

A meme, then is an internet joke. It is also who we are, the sum of environmental factors which work in our minds. Consider just what a meme contributes to you: the shows you watch, the books you read, the food you eat.

But wait, it goes deeper. (Insert inception meme here. That’s irony, right?)

Memes can dictate everything you say and believe, and as you speak and spread your beliefs, you’re spreading those memes. In exactly the same way as an internet meme spreads across the web, a meme for your life, your religion, political views, your morals, ethics – everything about you spreads. Will it meet resistance? Of course. That’s the nature of the beast. Not everyone will agree with your ideals or what is normal to you. That’s where conflict stems from.

It’s not just positive things either. Look at some ideals spread by society: revenge, hatred, intolerance. These are all examples of memes spreading from one person to another. We work for a wage because of the memes of Capitalism. The key to breaking apart from your memes, or “Rebelling” as Richard Dawkins puts it, is to identify and replicate the “good” memes – things like charity, compassion, and so on – and to kill the bad ones.

The point is, both types of meme spread in a very similar manner – it’s just that one is far more integral to society and takes a lot more thought than the other.

And nobody ever worked hard developing a successful internet joke.


About the author

Josh Smith

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English Literature and Creative writing student, currently studying at the university of Winchester, with an interest in English language. Aspiring author trying to make a living. The shark is not a mammal.