memes: a beginner’s guide

I have been a long-time lover of memes. All types of memes: macros, .gifs, videos, the lot. For a while, it seemed like only a small few enjoyed them too, and shrieking “IT’S OVER NINE THOUSAND!” would elicit not laughs and smiles of recognition but much scratching of heads and confused expressions. Now, however, memes like “Forever Alone Guy” and “Courage Wolf” et al are becoming increasingly popular means of expressing ourselves on the Internet. But for those who are new to memes, it can be a little confusing, like the whole world is in on a joke except you. Know Your Meme is great but unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s a bit like the Room of Requirement – chock-full of equal amounts of useless and valuable stuff. So here’s all (I think…) you need to know about memes.

Firstly, what are memes? Googling the word “meme” will bring up a ton of stuff about Richard Dawkins and natural selection and genetics, but the Internet meaning of “meme” could not be further from that. A meme is simply a concept that gains traction on the Internet. Many memes begin on message boards such as 4chan (I wouldn’t advise anyone who is easily offended to visit 4chan, though by saying that I have just piqued everyone’s curiosity.) The creation of memes started to pick up speed on the Internet around 1999-2000, when classic memes like Peanut Butter Jelly TimeAll Your Base Are Belong To Us and LOLcats were born. Over the past decade, the idea of the meme really took hold, and right now there are squillions of memes being created almost every day. So where does one begin to even scratch the surface of Internet phenomena?

I think we should start with pronunciation. I have heard a whole range of variations on the pronunciation of “meme”: “memm”, “me-me”, “meh-meh”… I championed “memm” myself, before being gently directed towards the correct pronunciation – “meem”, as in “seam”. Meeeeem. Got it? Good!

Next, I’m going to give a brief rundown of the most popular memes on the Internet right now. I had a terrible time trying to compile this list, as I kept being all “BUT WHAT ABOUT DOUBLE RAINBOW?!?!” and “I LOVE NYAN CAT THOUGH…” But I decided on these because they turn up all the time, and are a sort of “starter kit” for beginner meme-lovers.

Ragefaces/Rage Comics
This is a series of faces used to describe various emotions or reactions to certain events, and probably the easiest ones to decipher. The title of the series is derived from the first Rageface, “Rage Guy” or “FUUUUUUUU”, who is (obviously) used to express anger or frustration. Then we have “Forever Alone Guy”, used to express – you guessed it – loneliness.  Rage Comics use these Rage Faces to create a story, often with four panels, like this:


The most notable Rage Faces are FUUUUUUU, Forever Alone, Okay, Me Gusta and the often infuriating Trollface.

Yo Dawg
Remember when you used to watch Pimp My Ride and Xzibit would show them the remodelled car and say: “Yo dawg, I heard you like [fishing/movies/mudkipz] so I put a [fishing rod/cinema] in your car so you can [fish/watch movies] while you drive!”? In every episode? This became a meme in 2007 when members of 4chan (who else) created this gem:

Basically, the format is “Yo dawg, I herd you like X, so I put an X in your X so you can X while you X”. This can be interchanged in any number of ways. For example, here’s an Inception-themed Yo Dawg:

Xzibit is apparently not a fan of this meme. Sucks to be him, I guess.

Advice Dog/Courage Wolf/Socially Awkward Penguin
These three memes all adopt the same format – an animal head, offering advice, superimposed over a colour wheel. Advice Dog usually has a rainbow colour wheel, Courage Wolf’s wheel is in varying shades of gold, while Socially Awkward Penguin’s wheel is in varying shades of blue. Advice Dog gives nonsensical or potentially terrible advice, such as:

Courage Wolf wants to help you succeed with some extreme yet inspiring advice:

And Socially Awkward Penguin points out how very socially inept we are.

X ALL the Y!
X ALL the Y is quite a new meme, first appearing in 2010. The comic that spawned this meme was originally featured on Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh, one of my favourite webcomics. In the comic, Allie uses this image to describe how she would have spurts of doing all her household chores, then fall back to browsing the Internet all day long (sounds familiar…):


This picture became the basis for the meme, and can be exploited in numerous ways, including this:


These are just some of the THOUSANDS of memes out there. My particular favourites change all the time, but at the moment I’m loving “Nope! Chuck Testa” and “Women Laughing Alone With Salad”. For more information and to discover more memes, see this timeline covering the growth of Internet memes. If you find you can’t get enough…here’s my not-so-secret secret. But beware! It’s extremely easy to become completely addicted to memes. Your life will be a constant struggle to stay up to date with the latest Internet phenomenon, your brain will turn to mush and you’ll become a hermit that lives off Doritos and Dominos and Wi-Fi. Well…maybe not, but don’t say “Hey Valerie, Y U NO give me fair warning?” Cos I totally did. Stay classy now!

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