What makes memes relatable?

Relatableness is what gives memes their power: the ultimate source of their almost magical capacity to spread like wildfire across platforms and bubbles, conquering the mainstream (LVL 2) and becoming unstoppable vectors of political and commercial messages (LVL 4).

But what is the origin of this power? To find the answer, we must look at the nature of human sociality and at the role of language in constructing our world.

As anthropology pioneer Malinowski recognized, the arcane power of words is rooted in practice. This truth is no less relevant in the 21st century, with our language and culture becoming increasingly visual. The power of memes comes from our practical experiences: from a capacity to trigger shared memories, a common sentiment, possibly even a very specific interest or a peculiar kind of humor.

In this panel, you can find a fine selection of memes from the famous subreddit me_irl (“me in real life”), as well as some gems from Clusterduck’s very own Telegram Group, just “fresh” “dank” “memes”. Before you jump in, please keep in mind that relatableness is not a universal category: it depends on your personality, interests, experiences – and ultimately on your kind of humor. So you might want to ask yourself: are you into surreal, bizarre jokes, preferably with LOTS of memetic references, and thus “dank” af? Or do you prefer “regular” stuff and have no idea about memes (which could imply that you are a “normie”)? Are you into politically uncorrect, and thus “edgy” jokes? Or are you a feelgood, “wholesome” kinda guy?

You will also note that, as memes got more relatable and crawled out of the subcultural niches that gave birth to them, thus becoming the true universal language of the social web, they also developed in terms of production methods and formats. A screenshot or a comment under a twitter post could, under the right circumstances, become a meme, giving birth to the subgenre of twitter memes (which form the bulk of the memes on this panel); likewise, the use of remixes and mixed-media techniques increased, soon leading to meta-formats (LVL 7).

Discover more about this chapter: