Monday, January 12, 2009

The Life of an Internet Meme

Comment by Shaper_pmp of Reddit:
All memes go through this lifecycle:

  1. Meme is born. Almost nobody understands it, and it's barely funny when you do.

  2. Meme gets adopted by a specific social group. Meme now serves as a shibboleth indicating membership of the group, and encourages feelings of belonging and "insidership" whenever it's encountered. At this stage, the meme varies between mildly amusing and hilarious, depending on how it's used.

  3. Meme becomes mainstream - everyone is using it at every opportunity, and - its use as a shibboleth negated - it gradually gets stale from overuse. Meme is hilarious to newcomers, but increasingly sterile and boring to older users.

  4. Meme effectively dies - people using it are generally downmodded or castigated for trying for "easy" posts. Importantly, it can still be funny even at this stage if it's used particularly well... however, 99% of the uses at this point are people trying to cash in on easy karma - the kind of people who tell the same jokes for years without realising that the 17th time you hear it, it's no longer funny.

  5. Meme is effectively dead, but may experience rare and infrequent resurrection in particularly deserving cases. Generally these uses get applauded, because nobody wants to risk approbation for posting stale memes unless they're really sure this is a perfect opportunity for it - one that's literally too good to miss.

Importantly, by stage 5 the meme starts once again to be funny, because it's once again serving as a shibboleth... though this time instead of showing how advanced and up-to-date the poster is, it instead serves to indicate his membership in the "old guard" of whatever social group it's posted to - "I've been around here so long I remember when this was funny", it quietly indicates to other old-timers and well-educated newbies alike.


Fugublowfish said...


Mr. Pony said...


Lungclops said...

is national socialism a stage 5 meme yet?

Mr. Pony said...

Good point; certain especially aggressive and invasive memes seem to enjoy a stage 6, where they are universally synonymized with evil. RickRolling is another example.

Shaper said...

> First.

Haha! A perfectly-executed stage five if ever I saw one. ;-)

In other news, thanks to Mr Pony for the compliment of posting it. Much appreciated.

Mr. Pony said...

Good work, Shaper. Your post fit nicely into several discussions we were having. Your light disdain for the use of internet memes before they mature properly is refreshing! I mean, as refreshing as light disdain can be. Carry on!