I made this comment in response to someone in the comments for this Chainsawsuit, and I wanted to mention it here for posterity. It sums up how I feel about memes, when I think too often I come across as having a scorched-earth policy for anyone who would dare to be creative in a manner I don’t find compelling. That’s incorrect but I think that’s how I sound. See if this fits better:
let me clarify a thought on memes — memes are not immediately poison. to suggest this is to say “no emoticons either, and no lowercase letters, and only correct punctuation.” ridiculous. we can’t do that.we need memes. we need these ideas to exist. we need methods of self-expression for people of every creative stripe.
my assertion is that after the first 5 or 10 iterations of a meme, the meme has to become meta to survive. then the meme is just an inside joke. inside jokes depreciate rapidly. the return on investment is pretty goddamn low. unfortunately this is where the meme really takes root and shines.
someone on twitter said that they had considered memes “the democratization of humor,” which i think is fascinating. because there’s an effort to make you think that by proliferating someone else’s joke, you yourself become as funny or clever as its originator. there is money to be made from this. empires are built on that idea! but it doesn’t hold water. the word BACON or the word SCIENCE is not humor, it does not indicate the presence of humor; but it’s been positioned as a punchline for so long, we react to it as if it’s a fully-formed joke.
put it this way: we used to all own headphones of various qualities. then apple bundled those trashy white earbuds with all music players, and audiophiles everywhere said “man, they are really horrible for music — they have terrible bass response and kids are growing up thinking that all music is supposed to be tinny and shrill.” i’m not an audiophile, but i’ll take those guys’ word for it.
memes are those white earbuds, but for comedy.
I mean, I don’t know how 4chan feels about it either; like, while they champion and deliver the most current, richest meme ores, I don’t imagine they get too excited when the meme they got sick of six months ago has finally trickled down to Snorg Tees. When the meme is new and fresh and hasn’t been run into the ground, it has currency; it has value and real comedy.
I don’t think most of us get to see the memes in that nascent, budding phase. I think we internet peons only see them when they’ve already got Doctor Who and bacon and Portal crammed into every hole.