With the mass prevalence of memes slowly stealing our peace when someone posts up a gross picture of you on Reddit: I’m starting to think memes are doing the world a favor.
A meme culture is suddenly forcing us to re-think our worldviews, plunging a needle of hyper-self-awareness in the back of our brains that jolts us out of ignorant complacency. No one wants to be Scumbag Steve or Facebook Girl; we cheer on Good Guy Greg and the onslaught against First World Problems.
Memes require a vigilant adjustment of our interactions, an ability to counter-attack the counter-attack ad nauseum, the capacity to laugh at ourselves in spite of ourselves.
It’s a confrontation with human ugliness: and a necessary one.
We’re entering the age now where we can see the influence of Social Media on a whole generation. There’s no precedent for it, no longitudinal study that has watched the long-term affect of our shiny objects and digital interconnectedness — and besides the typical danger-piece about distraction and the dumbing down of America, it’s still difficult to foresee how our collective closeness will make us better, or worse, or both.
Here are some ways I believe memes will change us for the better.
1) We’re united by common foibles, tendencies, and epiphanies.
Socially Awkward Penguins, Bad Luck Brians, and Philosoraptors can all gather in a room and nod. Here now, finally, is a place where you can be comfortable with your horribly embarrassing self.
Some of the more childish stuff like Scumbag Parents or Unhelpful Teacher are just lame claims on entitlement from spoiled kids. But then surfaces a well-articulated insecurity you only thought you had. And you can breathe out.
There’s something about knowing you’re not alone (even by finding others who say “Forever Alone”) that brings a sigh of relief to your soul. That short spurt of “What People Think I Do / What I Really Do” brought a rush of almost angry agreement among professions, and maybe just a little more empathy towards them. Memes are like an invisible bridge that ties together our introverted islands.
2) We must be more nuanced in approach and perspective.
Just about my favorite meme has to be First World Problems, because it’s a direct punch-to-the-face to so many ridiculous Westerners. Amidst the pile of trivial memes that come and go, many of them righteously tackle those tricky realities like hidden racism, double standards, shallow materialism, and even larger social issues. If you’ve been racist this whole time or you’re Foul Bachelor Frog or Idiot Nerd Girl or Friendzone Fiona (or the dude who whines about Friendzoning) — you can’t outrun yourself anymore.
Memes are like mirrors for our inner-madness. You can deny your friend’s heart-to-heart about your issues, but when some silly picture with a biting caption rolls up on your screen, the gig is up. You’re caught; the cover is gone and your excuses shrivel. When the truth is made funny, it’s easier to digest but no less true. Let it burn.
Social psychology talks about mental shortcuts called “heuristics” that allow us to make the quickest assumption. We are naturally inclined to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess any given situation, which is why when a driver cuts you off, you automatically presume “he’s drunk” or “he’s a waste of human life.” That can also lead to prejudice and bias, even with newly presented evidence: because people are hard-pressed to think harder.
Yet with so much information — even ironic, cheeky, snooty information — it becomes impossible to ignore our responsibility to process the obvious: so we have to become thoughtful. We need to engage. To not engage is to self-destruct, to fall behind, to not adapt. If the basic human instinct is survival and life-purpose, then memes not only encourage us to flourish socially, but meaningfully.
3) We can share the dumbest quirky memories with people who get it.
Some of those nostalgic 1980s Kids memes just bring me back to the “good old days” before Jersey Shore and the Kardashians, when we drew those S-shaped diamonds on our Trapper Keepers and waited on Saturdays for “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” What’s better than nostalgia is shared nostalgia, and it’s fun to know we’re not the only ones who sang the Rugrats theme song in the shower.
4) They’re just dang funny to laugh at, and laughter is awesome.
The first time I ever saw Karate Kyle, I just about lost my breakfast.
Some of these memes have me laughing hard enough to be ashamed of myself. It would be nice if even half of us took ourselves less seriously. I’m not a fan of the Quick-Joke Culture where we drown everything in sarcasm and ridicule, but I’m definitely all for a little self-deprecation. An ego is in constant danger of swelling: we need pruning.
5) Memes help us understand memes and therefore understand actual human beings.
In a very heartwarming case of meta-meme, Scumbag Steve wrote a public letter to Facebook Girl about her unfortunate internet fame. It was like a Very Special Episode of Meme.
The best parts are:
(The original letter has curse words, if you care about that):
When you go off to college, and you’re walking down the hall and a group of kids see you and scream, “Oh my god it’s Annoying Facebook Girl,” don’t cry. Some people can’t distinguish the internet from real life. There are people who refuse to believe my name isn’t Steve and that I am not really the scumbag (well not all the time, that is). Just remember who you are. And that you know you’re a decent kid. … Hopefully you’ll get to where I am, feeling like some memes are hysterical. But that takes time. I’m here if you need me. I’m sorry you’re hurting.
What a great plot twist. Sure, it makes some of us uncomfortable to put a face on people we can anonymously eviscerate. But maybe that’s the point. It’s the nature of the internet: there’s always more information along the way, and that keeps us digging deeper into humanity until only sympathy remains. We are only people, after all, with the same hopes, dreams, hurts, and passions like everyone else. Anything that drags us into the light to expose us will help, no matter how painful.
6) If you’re a Christian, you better know your memes like your apologetics.
This is a Christian blog, so I feel almost obligated to say:
Fellow Christians, if you haven’t read “Zealous Preacher Bingo” or all those atheist/fundie memes, get on that. It’s what the majority of the world thinks about you, and unfortunately that’s often what you look like.
Having been a former atheist, I still remember the red-hot rage I felt against all things religion. No one understood. Yes, I had problems with God and the Bible and theology: but mostly it was against the outright hypocrisy of so-called Christians and the atrociously unthoughtful things they would say. I was always appalled by the church’s license for arrogance. Now there’s a sweeping movement of both Christians and the unchurched who will not stand for it, and walls are crumbling.
The days of the religious ivory tower, if they weren’t already gone, are certainly now dead. Any church who still isn’t helping the poor, loving the neighborhood, and preaching the Real Jesus is a bygone relic. It’s why people are leaving the mainstream church in droves: not just because of how badly the church has fallen, but knowing that it could be so much more.
It was either Karl Barth or C.H. Spurgeon who said, “Have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” Without a pulse on the world, we are isolating ourselves from real spiritual needs of real struggling people. Underneath all the things we laugh about are the things we cry about, the longing for connection and fellowship and intimacy, and if a faceless online community can share a voice about what humors us and hurts us — then maybe we’re one step closer to understanding each other.
I’d imagine Jesus having a great sense of humor, sort of winking at all our downright craziness, pointing at a platypus and the human armpit and then the fences we build five feet between our homes. I wonder what he would think of all the hurts we numb, the masks we wear, the insecurities we hide, the lies we believe, the risks we’re scared of. What memes he would’ve written. If he could make a meme of himself, it would be simple enough: I know everything about you, what you did before, what you did last night, what you’re going to do, and I love you anyway. That’s What Jesus Would Do.
If a meme is simply about getting to know one another, then the world needs this kind of love: the kind that loves you anyway.