What's A Meme?

By Maxine Mulvey

December 21, 2018 5 min read

Have you heard of Grumpy Cat? Have you seen a "Doge"? Maybe you've heard of "memes." If not, you're in for some modern-day education. Your grandchildren will thank you.

Grumpy Cat and Doge are just two examples of the internet-born phenomenon known as memes or "meme culture." To understand Grumpy Cat and Doge, you need to first understand what memes are.

A meme is "a viral image that depicts a certain cultural concept or behavior, which people identify with and share," says Maya Kachroo-Levine at Bustle. "They're often meant to be humorous, and can apply to various different cultural topics. You can't really control or predict when they're born -- often something will spontaneously happen and the Internet will seize onto it and make it famous, sometimes overnight."

New trends and technologies -- such as memes -- often baffle those who are 55 or older. Thanks to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, memes spread particularly fast. But memes are accessible to people of all ages -- even those well into retirement.

More simply put, memes are "funny pictures mixed with relevant commentary," said Ashley Perling in a New York Times letter to the editor. In her words, young people use memes to "connect and relate."

If memes are a mystery to you, chances are that today's youngsters are as well. Today's young people confuse older people in part because they combine logic with nonsense. "Youth culture today, in two words: practicality and memes," researcher Jay Owens wrote for Medium. "Seriousness, and also taking nothing seriously." Memes allow young people to blend the ever-chaotic real world with imagination and humor. And older people can also join in the fun!

Making an account on a social media site such as Facebook can make memes more accessible to you. By extension, Facebook can help you bond with your younger family members. As social networks go, Facebook is incredibly easy to sign up for and a favorite among people over 55. According to The Guardian, Facebook users over 55 are the platform's second-largest demographic, behind 16- to 34-year-olds.

Now that you're starting to grasp what memes are and how they bring people together, let's get into examples.

So, who's Grumpy Cat? And what's a Doge?

Grumpy Cat's story is simple: The snowshoe cat from Arizona rose to fame when her owner took photos of the cat's "grumpy" facial expressions and posted them on the internet. Photos of the feline Scrooge have since been paired with humorously unhappy captions, such as "I had fun once. It was awful." People of all ages can relate to Grumpy Cat's irritability. Sometimes we feel sulky -- and Grumpy Cat is there for us.

During the holidays, Grumpy Cat becomes especially relatable. Making your own Grumpy Cat memes is easier than ever: "I've listened to 'Jingle Bell Rock' 42 times today." "I made three pies, and only three people said 'thank you.'" "I tried to go to bed at my usual time, but I got distracted reading about memes." You're welcome.

Doge (pronounced with a long O and a soft G) is another pet-related meme. According to meme database Know Your Meme, the original Doge is a shiba inu named Kabosu, owned by Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato. In meme form, photos of a startled-looking Doge are accompanied by humorously abbreviated and ungrammatical captions -- for example, "such happy," "much party," "very food" and "wow." The short, comedic phrases are meant to reflect the dog's internal monologue, which is presumably simple. Dogs don't know proper English.

Dating back to 2010, Doge is a classic, universally appealing meme. Your grandchildren may find Doge a bit outdated, but seeing their grandparent talk about Doge memes will make their eyes all aglow. And creating your own holiday Doge memes is simple! "Such family. Very celebration. Much festive. Wow."

This holiday season, try to bond with the younger members of your family by discussing their favorite memes. If they're good sports about it, they'll tell you about some of the memes that make them laugh the most. Don't feel discouraged if they're difficult to understand! Memes may not be straightforward for a first-timer. Though the kids may roll their eyes at first, they will appreciate that you're taking the time to learn about something they enjoy.

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