Memes as Collective Rituals

The 2000s were the founding era for internet memes.

The black humour of the so-called “demotivational posters”, available for sale to this day on the website Despair, Inc., still casts the climate of infinite pessimism and hilarity spread in those years on the image forum “Something Awful”.

The simplicity of Rage Comics, characters often stolen by 4chan anons from amateur cartoonists on DeviantArt or MySpace, demonstrates how a few poorly made traits can be enough to communicate complex and relatable feelings, or simply to share our misery and sense of failure with other fellow users.

It was during the 2000s and in environments mainly linked to forums, imageboards and social networks such as LiveJournal, Something Awful, 4chan and reddit that the first and most famous meme characters were born: Wojak, Troll Face, Cereal Guy, Epic Fail Guy – just to name a few. But there is more.

Many of the tactics and production methods that are still used today in meme culture and across social media subcultures also derive from this era. This panel is dedicated to the investigation of these tactics, which interestingly draw a lot of their language (“raid”, “invasion”, “storm”) and collective coordination methods (“hivemind”, “Rules of Conduit”, “Rules of the Internet”) from Multiplayer games.

At the time, the communities of trolls and early memers that fostered these practices were mostly hosted on closed, compact boards, on subforums or subreddits, often coordinating themselves in IRC chat groups. The grim appearance of their content and the constant use of gore acted as a protective barrier, keeping out casual visitors and “tourists”. The repetition of some significant images, rules or phrases was practised in order to recognize each other and to convey the hivemind towards targeted operations.

It could be argued that many contemporary manifestations, genres and practices of the memesphere, such as “shitposting”, “cursed images” or the “weird facebook”, are all distant descendants of these collective practices.

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