nternet meme, or most commonly known as meme, is defined as ‘a unit of cultural information spread by imitation’. The new comedic art form can be summed up as jokes told with the help of photographs, snapshots or cartoons. One can recognize and relate to any meme because it contains pictures that are popular, and are derived from famous videos, films, dramas, ads and TV programs that we see online. The popular pictures are then used to make memes, by adding an out of context caption, which conveys a message, most often a humorous one. With the advent of social media, the meme culture has spread like a wild-fire.
The word meme originated from a Greek word ‘mimema’, and was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe ‘an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation’.
An inseparable part of internet culture, memes are mostly funny, but at times, they can be derogatory and offensive for a section of society. The younger generations, the Millennials and the Generation Z, can relate to the spirit of memes as they are aware of every event in the world through social media. There are Meme pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter whose admins earn huge amounts due to the advertisements and the promotion of events on their pages.
Memes are not only a comic pictures aimed at entertaining people, they have wider political, financial and social implications. Memes, over the last few years, proved to be the catalyst for broader understanding of events, and a medium to convey knowledge in a concise way.
Memes can be used to describe political events and their impact on the lives of others, which otherwise might require a fair amount of reading. When in the first half of 2021, a ship called ‘Evergreen’ was stuck in the Suez Canal resulting in the blockage of the canal for over 5 days, a series of memes followed with the picture of a small excavator trying to make way for the 200,000-tonne ship in the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal meme not only made people aware of the history of the Suez Canal and its importance for world trade, but the memers creatively connected the incident with the everyday challenges of their lives.
Relatability is what makes memes a huge success. Many corporate sector institutions have used memes in their advertisements, as the young generations can be influenced more rapidly by memes rather than the conventional advertisement. Disney, Netflix, Fenty Beauty and other such entertainment channels use memes regularly for their advertising campaign on social media. According to The Daily Mail, around 85% of content shared online consists of memes and it has spread like a bubonic plague. They originate in one place, transfer from one person to another, and form a wave-like pattern. Memes are refreshing, recreational and make people laugh; they, therefore, can be used to connect with the existing and potential customers.
Memes as a subtle way of marketing
Memes are sold in the market, and a meme that is sold as Non-Fungible Token (NFT) becomes a property of the party that buys it, making it illegal for others to use it for marketing purposes. The ‘Diaster girl’ meme, the ‘modern problems require modern solutions’ meme, ‘The Distracted Boyfriend’ meme, ‘Main kya karu fir? Job Chhod Dou’ meme, amongst other popular memes have been sold as NFTS.
Asif Raza, a boy from Gujranwala, announced on Facebook, a few years ago, that his “Friendship ended with Mudassir. Now Salman is my best friend”. The announcement picture consisted of Asif and Mudassir shaking hands, with two small pictures of Mudassir embedded in the corners below. The meme spread like fire on the internet in Pakistan. The youth of Pakistan reshared this meme with little alterations, till it became an international hit. In 2021, the meme was sold to NFT (non-fungible token) for approximately 38 lakh Pakistani rupees. The internationally famed “disaster girl” meme got sold for a whopping USD 473,000.
Memes are sometimes snaps extracted from videos and then the captions added to fit the situation. The famous “Oh Bhai, maro mujhay maro” meme spread like fire on the internet when a Pakistani cricket fan, Momin Saqib, unapologetically described his emotions after Pakistan’s humiliating loss against India in the first-round match of the 2017 Champions Trophy. The meme not only became a super hit but also made Momin popular, giving him the opportunity to act in Pakistani dramas and appear in TV ads. The “Aik Dam Jazbat Badal dyay” meme was then widely used to depict the rapidly changing, unpredictable circumstances and emotions.
Another Cricket related meme that became immensely popular is that of Sarim Akhter, who frowned in disgust when Pakistani cricketer Asif Ali dropped a catch in 2019 World Cup against Australia. The meme was then used to show disappointment in anything, with caption describing the new situation. Due to this meme, Sarim, who is an accountant in the UK, has become a public figure in the cricketing nations. Sarim’s face has become the face of disappointment and the expression of disillusionment on social media. In digital media, if someone posts Sarim’s picture or responds with Sarim’s picture, its aim is to express disappointment.
The immense popularity of memes reflects the birth of a new culture. It reflects one’s knowledge and grip on contemporary cultural and political issues, societal factors, current affairs, international developments, and an understanding of sports and of the showbiz industry.
The meme culture has many inherent drawbacks also. It is the manifestation of depression and anxiety that has gripped the younger generations and their social isolation. The strength of the memes lies in their relatability. The meme culture is here to stay, in fact, it will get more popular in the coming years and its use will become more widespread.