The more time goes on, the more that I really come to hate internet memes. It would be enough to hate them for just how stupid they are on their own merits, but when we consider that they may also be dumbing us down, they go from to idiotic to problematic.
The first issue applies mostly to memes under the category of ‘humor’ or ‘funny’. The problem is that most of them are not funny. In fact, most of them do not even seem to be very authentic attempts at humor. In many cases some generic image and statement are slapped together and rely merely on contextual premises. This is especially true of images that get meme’d over and over again. Take, for instance, Conspiracy Keanu. The subtext that the meme is funny precedes the actual memes that are made from it. From this presumption all sorts of terribly stupid, innate or boring bits of texts can be pasted over it and it still has a supposed underlying funniness because the image is a symbol that is meant to suggest or imply humor.
This is much the same way that laugh tracks work. A mediocre or terrible sitcom relies on laugh tracks to make the unfunny seem funny. It provides a contextual funniness that exists only in symbol, but not in substance. It is an attempt to subvert your reasoning and taste in order to draw a desired response. It is manipulation. And so are memes. And while almost nobody intends to manipulate others with memes in the symbolic way I have discussed, it happens nonetheless. And it is happening on such a wide scale that its total effect on our culture and consciousness should not be so easily discounted.
Next worse are the memes that use shock or snark in their content. The shock memes are really the most juvenile form of internet humor there is. That is not to say that there is not some value in shocking media, but at the same time that memes are intended to be shocking, the nature of its medium makes it a highly conformist activity, which negates any meaningful shock value. When memes are the norm, there can be little shocking about them. So it largely becomes a masturbatory circle of jaded fools trying to outdo one another in order to seek attention. And its okay to desire attention, but to do it in such a cliched and pedestrian way is pretty disgusting.
Snark is similar. Yet the thing that is extra gross about meme snark is that there is an underlying assumption that meme snark equates to truth. Many people will use one of these memes in comments sections to dismiss entire complex ideas. Meanwhile the irritating self-satisfaction of the sharer is obvious, while at the same time unearned. The subtext beneath memes becomes a form of automatic thinking. The medium gives weight to something via unspoken contextual clues while being devoid of any meaningful content.
The usage of memes as responses to larger ideas or dialogues is infuriating. It is intellectually lazy. It replaces opportunities to have meaningful discussions with the automated behavior of simply pasting in a meme. And there are no logical responses to memes, so they rob logic and reason and intellect from the entire situation and replace it with visual cliche. Despite the potential of the social media to awaken minds and provide a forum for information exchange and valuable discussions that lead to growth and evolution, it has become a wasteland for seeking attention and validation for completing the merely symbolic function of meme distribution.
This problem, the problem of symbol over substance, permeates our culture both online and off. We reinforce our own ignorance and automatic thought and behavior by replacing things of merit or substance with things that have nothing more than a symbolic function. This kind of problematic thinking and acting permeates every subject and issue we face. Politicians and advertisers have long understood how to manipulate us using our automated responses to certain symbolic stimuli. The subliminal. The unspoken but implied. These tricks are used to disrupt our reason and free will. So why in the hell would we be using similar tricks to entertain one another? The result of meme activity will be to further degrade free thinking and reason. Not as part of some grand conspiracy, but as a side effect of an activity we saw only as harmless fun, rather than as a contribution to the reinforcement of our own worst mindless habits. It does not matter what is intended. The effect transcends your motivation.
So for Eris’ sake, stop with the memes already! If for no other reason than to return some value to them by removing all of the mediocrity and repetition. And if you ever reply to me in an online conversation with a meme, prepare to get this article in response!