5 Lifestages of a Meme

According to the only reliable source of knowledge in modern society – Wikipedia – a “meme” is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.“. Well, that’s what the term used to mean. The Internet has redefined that concept to apply to essentially any piece of media (text, picture, video, etc.) that goes viral enough to breed spin-offs and copies, transcending cultures and spreading across continents.

Today’s meme connoisseurs have dedicated resources at their disposal, such as KnowYourMeme.com, to track current memes and keep an archive of prior ones.

I humbly consider myself to be an Internet-browsing professional. Through extensive and meticulous research I have been able to identify five distinct stages every meme goes through. Below, I share my findings with you, in an attempt to educate you and enhance your appreciation of the world. To illustrate my points I use a very current phenomenon – a song called “Gangnam Style” by PSY (be patient, all will be revealed soon).

SPOILER ALERT: There’s a very high chance that you will hate both the song and me by the end of this post.

When you’re about to hate me, remember who brought you this puppy picture!

Stage 1: Virality

Any concept needs to reach a certain critical mass in order to become elevated to the prestigious “meme” status. That photo of your dog chewing a stress-ball with Obama’s face on it? The one twenty of your friends liked on Facebook? Not a meme! That video of you chewing the same stress ball while drunk and singing “I’m Too Sexy For My Balls”? The one uploaded to Youtube and seen by tens of millions of people? The one mentioned by both John Stewart and Jay Leno in their opening routines? Probably a meme, or close to becoming one!

So, the first stage in any meme’s lifecycle is virality! Now, on to our example.

In mid July 2012 South Korean singer PSY released a music video entitled “Gangnam Style”. The video is an insane amalgam of bad rapping, bad dancing and epilepsy-inducing visuals. Throughout the video your eyes and ears are assaulted by a barrage of events that your brain has no hope of ever processing in a satisfactory manner. In short, it’s awesome!

If you have somehow avoided seeing this visual and auditory equivalent of electroshock therapy up until now, here you go:

As of right now the “Gangnam Style” has 253,690,773 views on Youtube. For comparison, a video of me playing solitaire, uploaded two years ago, has 253,690,770 views less. Oppan Gangnam Style indeed! (edit 20-10-2012: it is now 508,390,243 views, really leaving my solitaire video in the dust).

Stage 2: Copycats

Inevitably, others will want to join the ride. That’s why any meme will soon spawn countless copies. It doesn’t matter what the original target audience of a meme was. Memes transcend all demographic boundaries. What? Don’t believe me? You demand examples? Is that why you’re  screaming “Please, no more Gangnam Style!”. Sure, here you go:

Navy Style:

Baby Style:

Flash Mob Style:

Stage 3: Parodies & Remixes

Eventually, some creative folks will take the “copying” a step further and re-invent the meme by adding other elements to it. They’ll take inspiration in the original meme, but change up the atmosphere and incorporate something new into the mix. That’s how you go from an Asian dance video to…Lord of the Rings?

While you’re at it, why not use computer games to animate your new video-interpretation of the meme?

One of two things is happening right now:

1) You despise me for introducing “Gangnam Style” into your life. In frustration, you try to scream obscenities at your screen, but inexplicably all that comes out are “Gangnam Style” lyrics.

2) You find “Gangnam Style” firmly implanted into your head and consider it the catchiest video since Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”.

Now that I think of it…it’s far more likely that both of those things are happening simultaneously.

In either case, you need a short break from it all. That’s why I want to treat you to one of my favourite meme remixes of all time. In 2003 a video surfaced of a teenager swinging a golf ball retriever, pretending to be a Jedi. The video went viral and the meme became forever known as the “Star Wars Kid”. Then a creative soul decided to make the kid’s dreams come true and added a touch of special effects to the video, turning it into a Hollywood blockbuster. Enjoy:

Stage 4: Meme Fusion

Finally, a meme reaches the pinnacle of its popularity. At this stage the meme gets fused with other memes, current and past, into a perfect blend of awesomeness. Memes of all origins unite to form something new, yet instantly recognizable.

Remember the “Ecce Homo” restoration I’ve talked about just ten days ago? Don’t remember? How about now:

I’ll have you know that “Ecce Homo” is officially a meme by now.

If any of you wonder what happens when you merge the two memes and type “Ecce Homo Gangnam Style” into the search field on Youtube, wonder no longer:

Another great example is people picking up a much older “Hitler Reacts” meme and fusing it with “Gangnam Style”. Why do people insist on introducing Hitler to all things, including an innocent dance video? Because Internet is where logic and reason go to get stabbed and set on fire.

I cannot, in good conscience, let you leave here today with “Gangnam Style” warping your mind and taking place of all rational thoughts. That’s why I want to share a meme-fusion example that’s also a personal favourite of mine. It’s a mash-up of Christian Bale’s famous mad rant on the set of Terminator: Salvation and a video of a kid under the influence of drugs after a visit to the dentist. It goes a little something like:

Stage 5: Obscurity

All good things must eventually come to an end. An internet meme is no exception. No matter how popular a meme is, no matter how many people are copying and sharing it, a day will come when something new will take its place. Yes, even “Gangnam Style” will soon become a thing of the past, even if that catchy tune playing in your head right now says otherwise.

But don’t you cry for “Gangnam Style”. No matter how forgotten it becomes, it will only be a matter of time before it gets picked up and fused with “cyborg-dog juggles lasers”, or whatever other future memes are in store for us. If it doesn’t, I promise to make my own video remix: “Daniel plays solitaire, Gangnam-style”. That should definitely land me more Youtube views!

4 questions sparked by the “Ecce Homo” restoration

By now you must have heard about the failed “Ecce Homo” restoration. If you haven’t, I hope the rock you live under is both comfortable and warm, despite neither of those features being characteristic of rocks. In any case, if you haven’t heard the story before and refuse to follow the link I’ve provided for some stubborn reason, here’s a quick recap:

In a Spanish town of Borja, an elderly lady by the name of Cecilia Giménez attempted to restore a deteriorated fresco of Jesus, “Ecce Homo”, in a local church of Santuario de la Misericordia. At some stage it became apparent that her amateur efforts didn’t quite yield the desired results. More specifically, Cecilia transformed Jesus into a nightmarish marshmallow-man.

Arguably the easiest “Spot The Differences” puzzle in existence

Reactions to the “Ecce Homo” incident ranged from outrage to amusement. The Internet, of course, exploded with innumerable parodies of the botched fresco job.

However, amidst all of this hype, nobody seemed to be asking the truly important questions. Well, that’s why I’m here!

4. Why did it take that long?

Reportedly, Ms. Giménez “had been restoring [the fresco] for years and had to give up before completing it” (emphasis added, because why not?).

H-h-how is that possible?!

Look, I don’t mean to brag, but I can draw up a pretty neat stickman figure in a matter of seconds. A simplistic approximation of a human face would take me a minute or two. Add a few hours to go grab some special fresco-friendly paint and I’d have Jesus looking like Pac-Man within a day, tops!

Hell, even Mr. Bean managed this feat in just over 5 minutes:

How can it take years to give Jesus a head-encompassing beard and remove all distinct features from the lower half of his face?!

Even more scarily…she “[gave] up before completing it”?! What was her next move?! Spend another two years meticulously adding a Spiderman mask over his face?! At what point in the multi-year saga did Ms. Giménez feel she was on the right track, but simply didn’t have sufficient time to perfect her masterpiece? Which brings us to the next big question…

3. How did it go that wrong?

We all make spur-of-the-moment mistakes every now and then. Just the other day I inadvertently soaked my fully-clothed self while fiddling with the shower tap and standing directly under the shower (true story). However, it takes a certain twisted combination of determination and denial to methodically butcher the face of Jesus over the course of, I can’t stress this enough, freaking years.

Please take another look at that “Before” photo. Sure, the paint has fully come off in places, but Jesus is still very much recognizable as a person in possession of a face. Splash some brown paint onto those white spots and you have a very basic, yet passable repair job.

“Meh, close enough…NEXT!”

How do you manage to gradually, day-by-day, morph Jesus into an androgynous bear-like creature and at no point consult with anyone about the structure of a human face? Which, in turn, brings us to…

2. Why has nobody else noticed anything until too late?

Here it is important to note that at no point did Ms. Giménez take “Ecce Homo” home to conduct her restoration work. Her “repairs” were being done inside the church where the fresco was, “in broad daylight” and with the approval of the local clergy.

Day after day, numerous people witnessed poor Cecilia labour over what looked increasingly like a bandaged head trauma victim screaming in agony through what was once a functioning mouth. Nobody, not a single person, thought that maybe, just maybe, Cecilia wasn’t quite the next Leonardo da Vinci. Nobody questioned whether this 80+ year old lady was the right woman for the job, even after seeing her systematically remove all human features from the two centuries old fresco.

Or maybe they did notice! Maybe they enjoyed watching this train-wreck unfold before their very eyes and waiting to see just how bad it gets? Afterall, isn’t that the reason people watch Jersey Shore and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

1. Why no Kenny connection?

Now for the final and by far the most pressing question. Why, despite so many memes and parodies of the fresco, did nobody bring up its uncanny resemblance to Kenny from South Park? Kenny, with his brown-orange hoodie and his face devoid of everything but eyes?! Am I the only one noticing this?!

Oh My God, you ruined Jesus! You BASTARD!

I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the inevitable Youtube video remix starring Ecce Homo Jesus as Kenny McCormick! Aren’t you?!

What are your thoughts on Ecce Homo restoration? Do you have any unanswered questions of your own? Do you think Kenny was involved?!