Why Do Memes Matter? – Glad You Asked S1 (E4)

Why Do Memes Matter? – Glad You Asked S1 (E4)


Christophe Haubursin:
For as long as I’ve been
on the Internet, I’ve been obsessed
with memes.I loved demotivational posters,
Leroy Jenkins,
Advice Animals,
Cereal Guy, Rage Guy,
LOL Guy, and,
of course, this guy.
♪ Chocolate rain ♪But at some point, memes leftthe weird corners
of the Internet
and became a part
of how almost everyone
participated
in conversations online.
Now memes define how
we experience pop culture,
they’re being used
in advertising,
and they’re defining
our political moments.
And all of that
made me wonder this…
( laughter )( music playing )So, I mean, memes are
at their core an inside joke. They are a reference
that an in group gets and an out group
doesn’t get. Do you have a favorite meme? Right now,
I think my favorite meme is this screenshot
from “Grand Theft Auto:
San Andreas”… – Mm-hmm.
– …of the main character
walking down an alleyway and the caption
is just, “Oh, ( bleep ),
here we go again.” And it– that’s–
it’s not funny when you say it
out loud and explain it,but it’s, like,
the funniest thing
in the world.
Yeah, I am way
on the out of this. It does seem like
the life cycle of memes
has seriously sped up. ‘Cause I just remember
being on Reddit and seeing
the “Futurama” guy, the “Not Sure If” meme… – Fry.
– …for, like, years. And now they don’t
repeat after, like, a day,
or maybe a week at most. – Mm-hmm.
– So it is more work
to keep up. My face is most known
for the Blinking White Guy,which is just me making
an expression,
sort of like
an incredulous look,
and, for some reason,
that gained a lot of traction. I mean, I certainly
don’t feel like I have any ownership over it
anymore because–
or that I really ever did. Which is a little
scary in a way, because it is my face and I have
no control over it. There’s a new phrase
creeping into our language from the Internet,
and it goes like this… Man:What they call a meme,
M-E-M-E.
I kind of like that–
Internet word.
Woman:It’s become
what’s called a meme,
an idea reproducing
across the web.
Man:
The power of that viral idea,
the meme, as it’s called,has grown exponentially.
– Do you know what a meme is? – Uh, no.
– I’ve never heard
of a meme. I’ve heard of a mime. – I thought it was “me-me.”
– I thought it was “me-mes.” – I thought it was “meh-mays”
– I call it “meh-mays,” yeah. This is how politics
is waged this day. These are the meme wars
in action. Christophe:
We’ve clearly come a long way in how we talk about memes. But memes have also
come a long way in just how influential
they are to us. But to understand
why we use the word “meme,” you have to go back to 1976 when Richard Dawkins wrote
this book, “The Selfish Gene.” He spends the majority of it
talking about genetics, but in one
of the last chapters, he comes up with
this new word, “memes,” and he’s been asked
to explain it ever since. The meme is the unit
of cultural inheritance. It’s anything that’s copied,
anything that’s imitated, anything that spreads
around like a virus. So he defines a meme as any unit
of cultural information that passes
from one person the next. Let me show you
how that works. Alex, finish this tune for me. ♪ Ah-ah-ah-ah ♪ ♪ Staying alive,
staying alive ♪ Okay, Cleo,
finish this sentence for me. – “Live”…
– “Long and prosper.” Great. Okay, Rebecca,
finish this one for me. ♪ It’s Friday, Friday ♪ ♪ Gotta get down on Friday ♪ Awesome. So, any of those things, like a tune or a catchphrase, any cultural product
that’s repeated over time, for Dawkins,
that was considered a meme. But then in 1994,
this “Wired” article called “Meme, Counter-Meme”
by Mike Godwin becomes the first time
that people refer to memes within the context
of the Internet. It’s funny,
there’s this line that says, “Most people on the Net,
as elsewhere, had never heard
of memes or memetics.” All of that
was about to change. ( groans ) Chances are that
if you spend much time on the Internet at all,
you know what memes are. There are “Shrek” memes,stock image memes,
there are Kermit memes.
They’ve kind of become
this very essential part
of how we communicate, and as a result of that,
there is a business to be made out of doing them really well. That’s why we’re visiting
this companyin midtown Manhattan right now
called Brand Fire.
They’re essentially this teamof meme-makers turned
advertising consultants.
We’re talking specifically
to a guy whose Instagram page
is called sonny5ideup.
He’s got a million followers,
and he’s made a business
out of making
really great memes
that resonate
with a whole lot of people.
And it turns out
being able to do that today
is extremely valuable.So, my name is Adam.
I run Brand Fire,which is a branding agency
in Manhattan.
Sonny comes here and worksand collaborates
on a lot of memes and a lot of content
that we create for our clients, and for ourselves,
and for our meme community.It’s sort of
a creative safe space,
I like to call it.
How do you
make money from memes?
How does that work? I’ll make memes for,
like, a media company
and just sell it to them. And I’ll do the same for,
like, dating apps. I would notice people
going viral all the time, and I just saw that,
like, that wasn’t that hard. I had nothing else to do,
so it was that or have no job and do nothing. You know,
I like absurdism. I think repetition creates– when you create
a pattern of absurdity and it becomes
kind of normalized,
it’s interesting. – That’s just memes, though.
– Yeah, exactly. And we do this every day,
so it’s just like, “I have to post today.” Christophe:Right now
they’re making memes
for their own
Instagram pages,
but their resulting
social media clout
is how Brand Fire
attracts new clients.
And they’re not alone.In the last decade,
it’s become standard
for brands to capitalize
on meme culture to sell things.
You know what I was thinking?
We should make– I was thinking about
even making a concept
for a whole account where it’s, like,
a fake CBD account. But what’s the real joke?
Like, you have CBD
and you mellow out. So, like, what would be
a good thing to– what would CBD go in
that wouldn’t make much sense? What about, like,
a energy drink with CBD? Yeah, like, you’d get
a guy relaxing in a chair that looks like
a Kyle kind of guy and with a Monster drink
in the foreground. That’s not a bad idea.
This guy looks chill. “Now with CBD,
for when you want
to just chill.” You could maybe fade him in
like one of those– – like an ’80s yearbook photo.
– Yeah, totally. – Sonny: There you go.
– Adam: Chill, Kyle. Yeah. It doesn’t get
more bold than that. I think this is probably
pretty good, right? That looks great,
honestly. That looks like an ad
in a skateboard magazine. The whole joke is just this kid,
he looks so thoughtful, yeah. He’s just so thoughtful. You got to take a break
from punching walls sometimes, you know,
and think about it. Think about all the walls
you’ve punched. Most of memes are just things that a lot of people
are thinking that
they don’t say out loud. So they can just post it
and feel like they’re saying it without being, like,
personally attached to it. Adam: Now we’re already
starting to come up with,
like, the caption. – Right?
– Because the caption
activates it. The caption’s
the hardest part because you can make a great image
and take hours and hours. The guy’s gonna start adding
shadows and ( bleep ). You’re not gonna
catch someone’s eye with a news article,
like, “Oh, this, that.” But you’ll catch someone’s eye
with a popular meme format. And then they’ll read it
and then they’ll– whether they think
it’s a joke or not,
they’re still taking it in. – Yeah.
– So, I think it says
that we’re all alike in ways that
we don’t realize. Like, if a lot of people
can relate to something
that you said, then it’s like you hit
the sweet spot, you know? I mean, what do you
feel like it takes
to make something that does relate
and resonate with people? I noticed the stuff
that I work harder on
goes less viral than the stuff that
I’ll make in two minutes. – When you stop and reflect?
– Maybe– yeah, or maybe when you want to reflect. All right,
I’m gonna share it. I beat you, bro. ( indistinct chatter ) Thank you so much.
This was awesome. Great to meet you, too. Christophe:
So, let’s talk
about the format.
Seeing that entire
behind the scenes process of a meme being made made me wonder, you know, is there a reason that memes
look the way they do? Is there something behind
this whole Internet ugly aesthetic?To figure that out,
I talked to Whitney Phillips.
She was really
one of the first people
to research
trolling and memes.
4chan and 4chan’s site
architecture played an unknown
but really significant role in the rise of what
we now refer to as meme culture. And the reason that
that happened was because it was not
a very robust website. It didn’t have a lot
of server space. I’m gonna need some help
to explain this, so I’m going to text Joss. Can you help me
make some art? Hello.To show how 4chan works,Joss is gonna make
something artsy
and I’m gonna make
something scrappy.
In the early 2000s,
when Internet memes
were first becoming a thing,all of these different formats
start on 4chan. – Ah, so, this is 4chan.
– This is 4chan. Now, 4chan was and still is
a very fringe website. But to start a conversation
on an image board, you have to post a picture. That’s a rule that’s designed
to prevent spamming. – For example,
this picture you made.
– My picture. Yay. – Can I post it?
– You can. Here you go, 4chan.
What do you think of my art? Christophe:
But 4chan had really
limited server space, so it had to constantly
delete old pictures to make space for new ones. My picture looks
kind of out of place
on this board. It does, and it would. If a thread had
a lot of engagement,
it would stay up, but if not, it was deleted. So, anyone who spent
a long time working on
a piece of content… – Like me.
– …like you, on 4chan,
got really frustrated when their stuff
was deleted very quickly. – Such as this.
– No! A 2011 study found
that the threads on 4chan’s random board /b/ had an average lifespan
of just about 9.1 minutes. If you were spending
a long time on photoshopping some clever response
to something that
someone said to you, by the time you get back
to the conversation,
that thread might be over. It might be permanently gone. I had no idea that
you had to be that fast – in order to engage
in these conversations.
– Right. The memes that emerged
out of 4chan were often
deeply problematic, to undersell what
that site was like. The aesthetic often contained
profound dehumanizations because that was part
of the joke on 4chan is that trolls troll trolls
who troll trolls. You know, and one
of the classic examples
is Advice Animals. You know, most of them
were about sexual violence,
racist violence, all kinds of
violent dehumanization. But everyday people
who spread the fun and funny versions
of that content also have helped spread
that same pollution. The difference is
that they don’t realize that they are holding
a weapon in their hands. – Interesting, right?
– Super interesting. – Yeah.
– It makes me wonder
if I was sharing memes, you know, back in 2012,
when these really simplistic, very wholesome, actually,
memes were coming around– I had no idea
when I saw them on Reddit, they actually had
a much longer history on 4chan. – Yeah. I definitely was.
– So, yeah. Like, is Business Cat racist? Is Bad Luck Brian a Nazi? I have no idea. I think he’s not a Nazi. Yeah, definitely not.I’ve been a part ofa McDonald’s commercial,a Volkswagen commercial,have had t-shirts
with my face on itin Wal-Mart and Hot Topic.So, it’s actually been
pretty awesome so far. Christophe:
Memes are by nature
constantly repurposed
and recontextualized.
The consequences of that
can be very personal, and I don’t think
there’s anyone who knows what that looks like better than the person
behind one of the oldest memetic videos
on the Internet. “Chocolate Rain.” ♪ Chocolate rain ♪ ♪ Build a tent
and say the world is dry ♪ ♪ Chocolate rain ♪ ♪ Chocolate cake ♪ ♪ The teacher yells
when I get answers right ♪ ♪ I’m insane ♪ ♪ Wickstrom is the one
I’m going to train ♪ ♪ Chocolate rain ♪ It’s really important
to know where memes come from, because the intention
behind how they were created might not always be
what you think, and that’s especially true
with political memes. In this Senate
commissioned report, the authors write that memes are the propaganda
of the digital age. Here’s what they mean by that. This is a meme comparing CNN to North Korean state media. It was made by a Russian
trolling propaganda page. And this is a very,
very similar meme posted by
a conservative website. It’s basically a rip-off. And that rip-off
of a Russian meme was later shared on Facebook by Republican Congressman
Steve King. He has two Facebook pages, and one is really
just for posting memes. And the reason
that that’s so impactful is that the meme page
is followed by a lot of people. In the last
three months alone, his meme page
had around 46 times
more page interactions than his normal Facebook page. That’s 600,000 interactions
for the meme page versus about 14,000 for
the regular Facebook page. So, by translating
political messages into memes, you can actually help them
travel a lot further. But how they’re
digested and perceived,
that’s a different story. There’s one organization that tries to make sense
of all of this. They are a website that
I have been reading forever–
Know Your Meme. They’ve been the encyclopedia
of memes since 2008. I really want to hear
what they have to say, and there is one night
when I have to be there. And welcome tonight to
the first Democratic debate in the 2020 race for president. The first Democratic debates
are about to begin. We are at the offices
of Know Your Meme
in Williamsburg. And they’ve kind of
created this war roomwhere they’re
watching the debate
and they’re watching
all of the memes
that are coming out
of the debate
at the very same time.We’ll hopefully, yeah, use these to mark tallies
of gaffes, any moments,
expressions, everything. – This guy.
– That guy.This team has
watch parties like this for
a lot of big events.
They’re here to track
everything that’s being said
so that they can document
how the memeosphere responds.
This is kind of
the first chance for a lot
of these candidates
to really show the world
who they are on this big stage. But it’s also this chance
for everything they say to be kind of
infinitely remixed. Everything is fair game here,
so let’s see what happens. Brad:
All of us are logged in
to our research account, and we’re going to
basically start – bookmarking tweets.
– Oh, interesting. Brad:
So, Sophie will be tracking
Trump’s tweets in reaction, and Brianna and Peter
are going to be making some memes live as we feed information,
basically. It’s fascinating
to see this whole system
they’ve got right now. – ( echoing chatter )
– They’ve got an entire wall of basically every
buzzword big moment that could be turned into
something in the coming days. It’s an organized operation,
I will say that. – ( chatter continues )
– Somewhat organized. Very interesting. If you had to say
what the biggest meme-ifiable moment of tonight was… – Uh, probably–
– …what do you think it was? And that gets back
into not just the health–
the big pharma, not just– So good! She’s somehow,
like, attempting to be the craziest person in the room,
and you gotta respect it. Sophie:
I think it’s just, like,
the placement of seeing, like, five men
right next to a woman– – I mean,
It’s a strong visual.
– Yeah, for sure. That might be
the most enduring image meme. Christophe:Marianne
Williamson’s performance
on that debate stage
made her Internet famous,
and even got her a page
on Know Your Meme
the very next day.
And if you look
at her Instagram page, you can tell that she’s
absolutely embracing that.Before the debate,
she really never posted memes,
and now she posts them
all the time,which is probably why
after the next debate,
she said this…Woman:
Did this night go the way
you had hoped it would? I don’t know yet.
I mean, I’ll tell you when, you know, later,
when I see the memes! Memes have become
a new language that lets people say things
and get attention that they wouldn’t
be able to any other way. And the world
is just getting meme-ier, for better or for worse. I don’t think there’s
anything wrong with memes or being a meme
or anything like that. I’m doing all right,
and I know that many are, too. But I think as long as, like, the humanity
isn’t lost in it, then… …it should be okay.

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