Cataloguing pop culture
Recently I’ve found myself turning to knowyourmeme.com for answers to some of life’s important questions, like, ‘Where did Doge come from’ (shout out to the name of this blog!), or ‘Where can I find more Business Cat memes?’. And each time Know Your Meme genuinely blows me away with the depth of information it has gathered about each meme.
Back in the day, I studied to be a Librarian. I love libraries, their philosophy and ethos, the passion that librarians (and other information workers) have for preserving our culture and history, for inspiring and empowering people with free access to information.
I see Know Your Meme as a type of library – a digital repository of information. Their mission statement says as much:
Know Your Meme is a website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more.
Essentially Know Your Meme researches and documents internet phenomena – memes and other popular content. The site functions similarly to a wiki – anyone can submit a meme to be investigated by editorial and research staff. The meme is eventually confirmed or ‘deadpooled’ (rejected for lack of information or validity). Community involvement is sought along the way.
Each meme is documented using a set template, describing it’s origin – first known occurrence or use of the meme, or where it evolved from, it’s use over time, it’s search popularity, references and related memes. In this way, each meme is catalogued and made available for discovery by the site and search engines.
Many would probably say that memes are frivolous, pointless things. But you can’t deny that they are a popular, pervasive part of the popular internet culture at the moment.
I actually think a lot of memes are incredibly clever, insightful and useful for expressing all sorts of thoughts and feelings. In the same way that Twitter challenges the user to express themselves in a maximum of 140 characters, meme creators combine one simple image, and a few words to create something witty and provocative.
Some of my favourites include the aforementioned Business Cat, which combines business and management cliches, with common cat-isms. Anyone who has a cat will recognise the crazy cat behaviours mentioned. Also:
- Grumpy cat – perfectly expresses my feelings each Monday morning
- Overly suave IT guy – I work in IT, the double entendres are hilarious
- Sad Keanu – never has a meme elicited as much sympathy.
My most recent fall down the Know Your Meme rabbit hole lead me to Weird Twitter. I noticed a trend on some satire twitter accounts of deliberately misspelling words and using non-sensical sentence structures (see @Seinfeld2000 and @Rudd2000) and wondered where on earth this style came from – I mean, who thinks of this stuff?!
Know Your Meme took me to the Modern Seinfeld meme – of which Seinfeld2000 is a derivative – which linked me to Weird Twitter.
The Weird Twitter record, while still being researched, describes the first known user of the style and definition of it:
The style of writing can be considered surrealist by participants in the group, with subject matter ranging from creating absurd scenarios to attempting to describe abstract feelings by choosing words for their “verbal aesthetic appeal.”
Weird Twitter is indeed weird. But it’s also incredibly interesting that this form of writing has spread so quickly. Yes, it’s a bastardisation of the English language, but I choose to see it as more of an artistic expression, similar to poetry or song lyrics. It’s a form of wordplay – used to express a feeling or thought, or to make an observation about the world, however ridiculous.
It amazes me that people spend time researching and documenting this stuff. Yes, it’s kind of bizarre, but the site is tracking a cultural phenomenon. Whether the memes will stand the test of time, remains to be seen. But I hope Know Your Meme will continue to grow as a fun, fascinating record of today’s popular culture.