Memes and the Mainstream

Even those who are unfamiliar and completely foreign to meme culture, at the sight of an Image Macro with an Impact font text would probably ask: “is this a meme?!” Impact is the meme font par excellence, and for good reason. It was thanks to the classic “Advice Animals” format that memes crawled out of the closed circuit of the various forums described in LEVEL 1 and started to invade homes and offices.

Soon, they began to appear everywhere: on emails sent to colleagues as a joke, on established social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and, inevitably, on t-shirts and commercials. 2013 can be considered a golden year in the history of Internet memes, with the birth of “Doge” and the explosion of huge viral YouTube memes; but it was also the year that saw the entrance of memes into the mainstream.

In May of that year, concerned and puzzled by this sudden explosion of popularity, a group of students from MIT organized the now legendary meme conference called ROFLCon II and dedicated an entire session to the topic “Memes and the mainstream”. The conference was attended by Christopher Poole alias “moot” – the founder of 4chan, by Kenyatta Cheese and Jamie Wilkinson, creators and founders of Know Your Meme, and by Ben Huh, creator of the blog “I Can Has Cheezburger?”, arguably the first platform that publicly exploited memes: a one-way extraction chain, perfectly described by moot, “I run the site frequented by the community that creates the memes, Kenyatta and Jamie study them, (...) and Ben essentially... profits from them.”

Today we clearly understand that the Human Centipede of meme exploitation was going to grow exponentially, in a myriad of reposts, mirroring accounts, meme advertising campaigns, meme-influencers and, finally, even bots scraping memetic content to be sold as NFTs.

Still, at the same time, Meme studies also emerged; thanks to seminal articles such as Linda K. Börzsei’s “Makes a Meme Instead: A Concise History of Internet Memes”, the Internet Meme finally gained its own Wikipedia entry, and the pre-ironic era quickly gave way to other eras yet to come, which saw Impact and Doge memes as two recurrent protagonists of ironic and post-ironic re-elaborations.

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