One does not simply make a meme

If you spend hours on the Internet like numerous university students do (don’t lie, we know you aren’t studying for six hours straight), you may have noticed odd images and videos appearing on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
These images portray talking cats, highly animated faces of cartoon people or videos of babies doing cute things. They’re viral Internet entertainment called memes, and they’re taking over social media outlets faster than you can imagine.
The original definition of a meme came from Richard Dawkins in 1976. He declared a meme to be “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It’s a concept used to describe the theoretical unit which transfers cultural aspects between generations. Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, explained how memes are the cousins of genetics; they grow, evolve and replicate in the same way.
Internet memes may not be what Dawkins had in mind when writing his definition of a meme, although they do share similar characteristics. Internet memes have been popular since 2001. They are anything from a photo-shopped image, a comical video, or an outrageous article that becomes popular online. The speed of communication on the Internet allows memes to be viewed globally, bringing people together to laugh at the same item within hours.
There is more to a meme than a viral video. Over time, memes have developed a language, rules, and trends. An iconic example of meme language is Lolcats. You simply take a picture of your cat and put text around it that is intentionally spelled incorrectly, as if the cat is speaking; Kitten becomes “kitteh” and more becomes “moar.”
Memes aren’t restricted to cat pictures. They include other character images, like Good Guy Greg (a seemingly good guy) or the Success Kid (a cute baby doing a triumphant elbow jab). Each character or image has unspoken guidelines and themes surrounding them and are used to get certain points across.
Colin Lankshear, a McGill professor, and Michele Knobel, an education department professor at Montclair State University, both specialize in new literacies and digital technologies. They collaborated on a paper in 2005 titled “Memes and affinities: Cultural replication and literacy education.” Their work suggests a successful meme requires three components: “Some element of humour, ranging from the quirky and offbeat to the bizarrely funny, a rich kind of intertextuality, such as wry cross-references to different popular culture events, icons or phenomena, and/or anomalous juxtapositions, usually of images.”
A recent trend on Facebook is university meme pages. Often started by students, with student contributions, the pages have been emerging online across North America and Great Britain. The memes tend to mock a specific aspect of the particular university. For instance, the most popular meme on the Concordia Facebook page says “-20 degrees outside, 100 degrees in Guy-Concordia metro.”
The title of “The first person in North America to start a website dedicated to university memes” most likely goes to Daniel Braden, an arts student at McGill University. Braden started McGill memes on Tumblr in November 2011 as a way to kill time. In an article on, Braden said “I’m also fairly confident that my site was the primary catalyst in spreading the university meme craze in Canada and the United States.”
Braden accepts occasional public submissions, but the majority of the memes are his own. When it comes to finding inspiration for his memes, Braden said he has an endless supply at McGill.
“I think of memes by making general observations about specific instances and trends in campus culture at McGill. McGill is full of many student groups and is home to many protests, therefore the memes generally write themselves,” he said.
What about Concordia memes? They can be found on a Facebook page called Concordia University Memes. Students can submit their own, and there’s an assortment of topics, from the dinginess of the Faubourg to the stereotypes looming over certain programs. Memes are intended to be harmless and humourous, but they also increase awareness about issues on campus.
“I think the main idea of a meme is you take a daily problem, well-known and easily identifiable by people who live the same ‘basic life’ as you―in our case, Concordia students―and make an image to share things that you see, that make you laugh, or make you angry,” said Hans Jules Bobànovits, an art history student at Concordia.
The Concordia meme page has over 3,000 “likes,” and even more viewers. It has become a community for students to vent and mock the trivial aspects of Concordia. The memes shed light on issues students can relate to.
“I find the visual meme is a good way to create an emotional response to a situation many people share without having to explain it,” said Concordia student Karim ZeTrad. “Words get in the way, but a picture and a line or two make the reference somewhat of an ‘inside joke’ to Concordia students. You put the meme on Facebook, and people ‘like’ it to discretely show they understand where you’re coming from.”


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