The phrase definitely sounds like a typical Gen Z meme. As a Gen Z myself, I have always thought that memes are the exclusive icon of my generation. But be prepared for this surprising fact: the coinage of the term ‘meme’ happened all the way back in 1976 and the concept of meme itself is nothing new to our civilization, as its traces are well preserved on the walls of several historic sites.
Although ‘meme’ was not yet found in the era of ancient Greek, archaeologists have found some humorous (mostly vulgar) and occasionally quite depressing inscriptions and drawings on the city walls, which gives us a portrayal of their daily lives, comparable to our memes today. After all, memes are basically just the visualized version of our thoughts and feelings. This brings us to the notion that humans have always favored the idea of relatable collectivism humor and this is where the concept of meme emerged.
Interestingly, the basic concept of memes has a very close tie to our biology. Meme is derived by Richard Dawkins from the original Greek word ‘mimeme‘, which translates to ‘something imitated’. As an evolutionary biologist himself, he equated meme to the genetics of our culture, as it carries and replicates information about our ideologies, beliefs and behavioral patterns, and undergoes natural selection based on its relevance to society. Hence, he abbreviated ‘mimeme‘ into a single syllable like its counterpart, gene.
Similar to genes, meme needs a host to replicate, and we are the host. Referring back to its definition, the essence of a meme itself is imitation with modifications. As hosts, we modify memes to communicate our ideas through the texts and other contexts that we add to the circulating meme. We keep a meme alive by ensuring it adapts to current trends and phenomena.
Maybe now you start to wonder, if memes have existed and have been propagated for centuries, why is it only so popular now? In this case, the internet is the obvious reason behind the booming of memes in the last 20 years. In the olden Greek days, only people who pass by the scribbled walls can relay the memes. With the existence of the internet, memes are now limitless as the internet provides a giant vessel where memes can be replicated at a rate like no one has ever imagined before. Moreover, with the millennials and Gen Z’s generational anxiety caused by issues which the previous generation never experienced, memes have become a highly sought refuge as a medium of self-expression and entertainment with nihilistic humor as a coping mechanism, finding comfort in potentially ‘yeeting into the void’
Coming a long way from the walls of Greece to today’s internet, the meme culture has successfully thrived in its journey. Reflecting on how memes remained relevant for millennia, it is probably safe to say that memes are here to stay and to continue passing down customs and ideals to the succeeding generations. Come to think of it, perhaps memes have, in a way, paved the way to the evolution of our culture.
Sources: sciencefriday, independentlens
Words by: Giannina Tan