Memes: a cultural expression of art popular online and in social media


Since the advent of the internet, memes have been a way to express emotions, whether that be from frustration, sadness or to make others laugh.

Memes have affected and influenced pop culture like no other media before it. Through its viral nature, internet memes can reach millions of people and touch on a wide variety of topics like mental illness or satire.

Daniel Chadborn, former instructor of psychology, explained how memes got their name.

“They get their name from Richard Dawkins, who coined the term as explaining the rapid transmission of social information, rather than the genetic information studied in evolutionary biology,” shared Chadborn. “They have sort of been co-opted as a term to describe these videos, images, etc. that spread as well.”

However, Richard Dawkins’ term for memes was meant to describe the rapid spread of social information through word of mouth and books. It did not account for the internet’s ability to move information quickly, since his research was conducted in 1976.

Chadborn had a couple of reasons as to why memes are so commonly used.

“If I had to just take an educated guess, their effectiveness in spreading, or at least those that go viral, are tied to the rapid spread of social information online and social media point systems, that for those who want karma, likes, views, etc. use popular memes to sort of game the system or jump onto the bandwagon because everyone else is posting or playing along,” described Chadborn.

People who make memes have a tendency to use them as a way to express their feelings about certain topics like politics or mental health. This is the case with Karianne Leigh, a junior art major.

“I enjoy making memes because it’s a way I express my feelings about my mental health, the world around me, things happening in my life and to keep up with inside jokes with my friends,” said Leigh. “I express these things by using certain text and ironic images.”

Leigh believes that memes are effective at making a point and shared that it is not hard to make memes, as even bad ones still have the ability to be funny or make a point. The amount of work that goes into making a meme varies depending on the subject matter and how specific the content is.

“For instance, if I wanted to make a political meme, I would have to do my research first so that I don’t spread misinformation,” shared Leigh. “But if I wanted to make a meme about a joke my friends and I have been laughing about, I would simply put the text on a random or related image as I usually like to use niche humor and joke about what’s going on in my life.”

As an art major, Leigh frequently compares memes to art. Even though her concentration is in painting, she has many other outlets in art. Leigh also pointed out that what makes memes different from most art forms is that memes truly show the inner reactions of humans to the world around them.

“So, really, memes are just psychotic art pieces, and I really do see a future where memes will be studied like any other art form,” said Leigh.