By Elise Engle
Defined by Merriam-Webster as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” and “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.”
We’ve all seen memes, and they certainly aren’t a new trend. However, where did they begin? What was the meme that started it all?
In 1976, Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and author, coined the term in his book “The Selfish Gene.” Since then, the popularity with this term has been on a steady upward climb as it reaches out to more and more Internet users.
The original memes were content spread through early online mediums, such as emails and message boards. Unlike past forms of media, which aimed to simply be consumed, memes began to encourage social interaction. Every memes’ purpose is not only to be enjoyed, but to be shared and connect people who would not have been connected otherwise.
Memes pull content from across decades. Media created in the 70s, 80s and 90s could easily resurface at any time as a meme. The “Dancing Baby,” which became popular in the 90s, is still often seen across timelines today.
Recently, the “white guy blinking” meme took over the internet. Oddly, the gif came from a 2013 video. What caused the short clip to suddenly gain popularity? Who knows. This is a perfect example of a seemingly random and obscure piece of media becoming a meme and quickly going viral across social platforms.
When searching for the first meme ever, I discovered that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it all started. In a lot of ways, memes are like art. They’ve gone from their “cave painting” to “Mona Lisa” to “Campbell’s Soup Can” stage, but they’re all important in their own right.
However, they do have one advantage that art does not – they are easy to create and share. As a result, they have had an unexpected cultural impact, and they are leaving a trail that will absolutely have future scholars totally confused.