meme – (n.) in Internet culture, an idea that is shared digitally across a culture. Also, typically funny.
When things on the Internet spread like wildfire as they often do, we might be tempted to assume that since we – the English-speaking Americans of the world – began using the web in earnest, that Internet culture is ours and ours alone.
But that, of course, is not the case.
From the cryptic blogs in the Cyrillic alphabet hosted on LiveJournal blogs to the old oekaki online drawing boards in Japan, foreigners have contributed just as much as Americans to the humorous or interesting posts we find on eBaumsWorld.com, that are emailed to us by friends, or are shared on Facebook. Digital emoticons, for example, are now used by the masses but first started popping up in international Usenet groups, one of the first forms of large-scale message boards from the 1980s. A smile or frown emoticon says the same thing no matter your nationality.
The principle of how an Internet meme catches on also applies to viral videos, save one crucial detail: creating memes requires considerably less skill and equipment to create, capture and share with the Internet. And unlike videos, a photo meme can transcend the language barrier. A video that begins in America may only reach an English-speaking audience; but a funny picture that requires no caption or language knowledge to understand could end up flying around the world.
Tenso, which originated in Portuguese, is a beautiful example of such a meme.
Tenso memes are typically four-panel comics that showcase something that might not have been obvious in the original image. In most cases, this is drawing attention to someone who has a less than desirable facial expression in a photograph. An example, shown right, is taken from a concert scene in the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World where an extra has a rather absurd face that doesn’t fit in with the crowd so much.
There are several instances of Tenso photos popping up on a forum called “Fórum Uol Jogos,” a popular Portuguese-language destination primarily for Brazilian Internet denizens to discuss pretty much anything from the latest video games to silly pictures like these.
Many memes are images adapted from their original media (a music video or a movie, for example) and applied to other pictures. Take the meme simply known as Dorgas, in which a Brazilian forensics dog has its picture taken in front of a large supply of narcotics. In the meme, people place a quote bubble above the dog’s head, and meme participants change what the dog is saying. The head of the dog has even been Photoshopped into the wildly popular “Advice Dog” meme, as well.
Memes like this cross-pollinate on a near constant basis, turning pictures of a dog with a bit of text and point-blank humor into images that are instantly sharable and almost universally understood. It’s subtle humor that makes for big laughs and, if done correctly by a marketer, gives customers a reason to pay more attention to their brand.
So, to recap, memes must be:
“Language” is not necessarily included. Get all three of those right and you might have just created the next big Internet sensation.
- Brad (@bcarr)