Ideas, Behaviours and Styles That Spread From Person to Person Within a Culture, or 1 Viral Internet Boi: What Is A Meme?

The following is a list of academic, scholarly and industry- relevant sources which discuss ideas that influenced the development of my research surrounding the notion of meme etiquette. They provide a solid grounding for which to develop my digital artefact further. Quotes & arguments will be grabbed from these sources to use in the production of my digital artefact, as well as the in-class presentation as a way to support arguments made.

(2013) Solon, Olivia. Richard Dawkins on the internet’s hijacking of the word ‘meme’.

This industry-relevant source from highlights the origin of the word meme in relation to culture. The term ‘meme’ was first coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976). It was used as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He derived the word by shortening mimeme, an Ancient Greek word meaning imitated thing.’

Image result for richard dawkins
Richard Dawkins

The word — which is ascribed to an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture — has since been reappropriated by the internet, with Grumpy Cat, Socially-Awkward Penguin and Overly-Attached Girlfriend spreading virally, leaping from IP address to IP address (and brain to brain) via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

(Solon, 2013)

Image result for memetics

In this source, Solon asks how Dawkin’s feels about his word being reappropriated by the internet:

The meaning is not that far away from the original. It’s anything that goes viral. In the original introduction to the word meme in the last chapter of The Selfish Gene, I did actually use the metaphor of a virus. So when anybody talks about something going viral on the internet, that is exactly what a meme is and it looks as though the word has been appropriated for a subset of that.

Dawkins, 2013

This source proved to be of value in informing me of the origins of the word meme relating to cultural spread, and how the use of the word has been ‘hijacked’ by today’s world to reflect the 2018 definition of the internet meme.

(2014) Burgess, Jean.All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong To Us?’ Viral Video, You Tube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture. In Papastergiadis, Nikos & Lynn, Victoria (Eds.) Art in the Global Present. UTSePress, Sydney, pp. 86-96.

This source argues against memes merely being viral videos viewed by millions of people. Memes are often viewed from a marketing perspective, where they are utilised as ‘messages’ and ‘products’ that are distributed via social networks. Instead, Burgess argues that memes play a central role of cultural participation in the creation of cultural, social  and economic value in participatory culture.

She argues that memes are mediating mechanics through which cultural practices are originated, adopted, and retained within social networks. This statement reflects the core argument and utility of my digital artefact, in which memes, as a system of culture, reflect and follow a certain code of ethics in the same way most civilised cultural society does. Therefore, those who actively contribute to content online are engaging in cultural conversations.

Burgess notes that according to Henry Jenkins, cultural value and production is generated via spreadability. Applying this to meme study, means that through reuse, reworking and redistribution of memes online, the spreadable media gains created resonance in the culture, taking on new meanings, finding new audiences, attractive new markets and generating new values.

This source proved to be of value- aiding me in the formation of arguments relating to the evidence of ethics in meme culture in the presentation of my digital artefact.

(2015) Highfield, Tim. Hashtaggery and Portmanteaugraphy: Memetic Wordplay as Social Media Practice in Memeology Festival. 

This source argues the notion of the “irreverent internet”, especially in relation to the existence of meme culture online. Highfield argues that play and silliness are popular strategies for the coverage and presentation of the topical and the mundane online. Irony, sarcasm, parody and satire are important framing devices on social media when covering issues, events and breaking news.

The internet is irreverent and the content often jumps contexts between sincerity and irony. For instance, Highfield notes the non-political memorial hashtag #putoutyourbats in tribute to the deceased cricketer Phillip Hughes, to months later the hubris of #putoutyouronions in “tribute” to Tony Abbott losing his position as Australian PM.

Image result for tony abbott onion

This source was of value, as with application of this notion to the concept of memes, it can be argued that if there is an instance of meme ethics, they are probably not followed because the internet is so irreverent.

(2015) Milner, Ryan. Memes are Dead; Long Live Memetics in Memeology Festival.

This source defined a concept for me: memetics. Milner argues that there is a broader way to think about memes- being more of a verb, than a noun. Memetics as a process, than just a meme on its own. Milner’s concept is based off Dawkin’s ideas on cultural transmission in which communicative practices and participatory culture that brings individuals together around shared references, moments and texts.

He argues that it is memetic practices including the collective creation, circulation and spread of texts, that define how we turn an individual image, or video, or phrase, or hashtag, or performative act, into a meme. The music video for Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is an example of this. It only became synonymous with memes when people started “rick rolling” each other, by annoying each other by linking to it. Milner argues that it’s not a meme until the practices around it become memetic.

Image result for rick astley

The source allowed me to identify a word (memetics) to a process (the act of spreadability, typical of meme culture) which will be valuable in the presentation of my digital artefact.

Image result for memetics

After assessing these sources, I am going to argue in my presentation that:

  • The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins as a way to describe cultural transmission- The word is now used to also reflect internet memes (Solon, 2013)
  • Memetics is the process in which an image (etc.) is turned into a meme (Milner, 2015) –  The concept is synonymous with aspects meme culture
  • Memes play a central role in cultural participation (Burgess, 2014)- thus memes, as a system of culture, reflect and follow a certain code of ethics in the same way any civilised culture does
  • However due to the irreverent nature of internet (Highfield, 2015) ethics can not be expected to be followed

Digital Artefact Update

YouTube Series Logo
  • I have decided to create a YouTube video series rather than a blog (as previously pitched)
  • In the style of already existing YouTube series- Internet Comment Etiquette
  • Anywhere from 5-10 videos depending on the amount of content and arguments I can generate
  • Each video’s length will be determined by how many I create- to keep within the 10 minute video length limit of the assignment i.e. 1-2 minutes per video
  • I have set up the channel and have begun gathering arguments to form the script of each video’s content using meme case studies (the meme pages/activities outlined in previous blog post), meme news (any new meme-related dramas) & academic sources (outlined above)
  • Each video will be focussed around a theme- Possible video themes I’m thinking about are:
    • Stealing memes- with the case study of my previous artefact
    • Businesses making cringe memes- show examples and the backlash received
    • Businesses making good memes
    • Memes in politics- Liberal staffer being fired for sharing an meme about Barnaby Joyce? Politicians using memes in their campaigns etc.?
    • When A Meme Dies- talk about a meme that has died really quickly in the last week etc.
    • Offensive Memes- when to draw the line

*Any feedback or suggestions on video theme ideas is appreciated*

(Header Image Source:



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