18 – Memes

Play Week!

That’s right, folks, it’s another play week!  While, as you can plainly see, there is a blog post associated with this week’s topic, there is no actual task that you need to complete.  Instead, you can use the time as you wish.  You might want to use this as an opportunity catch up on previous Things, to explore a tool you’ve always wanted to try, or just explore the wacky world of internet memes.

Remeber: due to the Sports Day, there is no workshop this Friday.

What’s a meme?

Memes, as originally envisioned by biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976, are bit of cultural information that are spread from person to person; songs, religion, catch-phrases, fashions and building techniques are all examples of memes.  An internet meme refers to anything that spreads quickly, often person-to-person, around the web – pictures, videos, funny emails, polls, ideas, etc – sometimes mutating in the process.  Anytime you’ve sent something to SOX because it was funny, you were proliferating a meme.  Anytime you’ve called someone over to your desk to show them something you found or were sent, you were proliferating a meme.

Where do memes come from?

Most memes spring up naturally, as people attempt to entertain or shock their friends and/or other members of the communities they frequent.  Memes can be site specific (technology news site Slashdot, for example, has many), or can spread wildly across the internet.

4chan (very NSFW and often extremely offensive), an image board that has been described as “a wretched hive of scum and villany” and “lunatic, juvenile… brilliant, ridiculous and alarming“, is often seen as the wellspring of memes.  It’s certainly given the world some of its better known and more enduring internet means, including LOLcats (and Caturday) and Rickrolling.  4chan memes and typically documented by Encylopædia Dramatica (again, very NSFW). Other common meme birthing grounds include Something Awful (All Your Base, Tourist Guy), Fark (though it is often accused of stealing memes from other sites) and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Many memes, however, arise spontaneously in multiple locations, fueled by an interesting new addition to popular culture, an act of unusual stupidity/weirdness, or the public humiliation of someone, preferably famous.  A good recent example is the BalloonBoy saga


Increasingly, marketing companies are increasingly trying to capitalise on the meme phenomenon by creating adverts that are meant to spread virally (hence the phrase ‘viral marketing’) through social networks.  Most of the times these attempts are fairly obviously ads (like the Big Ad) though, increasingly, unscrupulous ad companies try to hide the fact that they are marketing to you.  This is a practice called stealth advertising, and can take several forms, from creating carefully crafted videos that lack identifying marks (perhaps the msot (in)famous example of this  Blair Witch project) to astroturfing (a play on ‘grassroots’), wherin employees of a company pose as regular community members and spread positive (or counter negative) information about a company, without identifying that they are paid shills.  These practices, though, are not limited to for-profit organisations; astroturfing in particular can be used by a dedicated group of individuals to spread a particular ideology.

Attempts to stop the proliferation of information can, too, lead to memes of a sort.  This is seen in the Streisand effect, wherein an attempt to stop the publication/quash the dissemination of information backfires spectacularly, leading the information to become much more public than it would have been in the normal course of events.  A recent example of this is the Trafigura gag order, where an injunction not only prevented UK paper The Guardian from reporting on an MP’s question about the company’s dumping of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast, but from reporting that they were subject to the injuction in the first place.  The Guardian cleverlygot around the injunction, to a limited extent, by reporting and tweeting, not that they were forbidden to report on Trafigura, but that they were forbidden to report on parliamentary proceedings.  Outraged by this violation of the Bill of Rights, the internet, particularly the part of it Twitter, mobilised and did some digging.  Soon all sorts of details Trafigura didn’t want made public about its disposal of waste were being posted and talked about all over the web, and the company was forced to back down in the face of an utter PR disaster.

More Memes Than You Can Shake a Stick At:

  • Timeline creator dipity hosts a nifty timeline of memes going right the way back to 1989.  Be warned: several of the memes on this timeline are NSFW.
  • Know Your Meme: a site documenting memes and the evolution and origins thereof.
  • MemeCity: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more.

Some of the Practically Perfect Programmer’s Favourite Memes:

  • Bert is Evil
    One of the earliest internet memes I can remember spreading, it’s a collection of ‘evidence’ detailing the secret double-life of half of the beloved Bert & Ernie duo.
  • Dark Side of the Rainbow
    Synchronicity in action: if you play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz, you’ll find that the former synchonises uncannily with the latter.  I have done this, they do sync, but it’s purely coincidental.  Instructions are here.
  • The Lolrus Bukkit Saga
    A macro meme depicting the tragic story of a walrus and his beloved bucket.
  • The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats
    From 1912-1913 Aloysius “Gorilla” Koford produced a comic strip which was featured in 17 newspapers, including the Philadephia Star-Democrat, the Tampa Telegraph, and the Santa Fe Good-Newser. The strip was entitled “the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats” and featured the exploits of one Meowlin Q. Kitteh (a sort of cat hobo-raconteur) and his young hapless kitten friend, Pip.
  • LOLGraphs
    LOLgraphs are statistical representations and visual aids typically designed to explain a wide range of non-academic and mostly trivial topics for humorous effect.  A spin-off of this is Pop songs are best represented by graphs.
  • song-chart-memes-knowledge-opera

  • Recut Movie Trailers
    There’s an art to creating movie trailers, showing just enough of the story to generate interest and give audiences an idea of what they’re going to see without giving the game away… It’s even more of an art to create a new trailer for an old movie that re-envisions it as another genre entirely.  Mary Poppins as a horror flick?  The Shining as a romcom?

Some terms you may encounter on your travels:


A troll is someone who deliberately makes an inflamatory post or comment, with the goal of causing conflict rather than actually contributing to the conversation. This, in turn, is called trolling.  Trolling can lead to flamewars (see below), and ‘Don’t Feed the Troll’ is a common refrain in many communities; ignoring trolls, thus denying them lulz, is the best way to get rid of them.


A flamewar is a discussion that gets out of hand, where participants’ comments devolve from rational arguments to personal insults.  A tounge-in-cheek guide to the personality types who get involved in flamwars can be found at Flame Warriors.

Godwin’s Law:

Godwin’s Law is closely related to reductio ad Hitlerum, a logical fallacy (ie. Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarianism is wrong). Coined in 1990 by Mike Godwin, it states: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.  A modern corallary to the Law is that anyone who uses the comparison automatically loses whatever argument was taking place, and is said to have Godwinned the discussion.  The internet has a number of other supposed laws, but Godwin’s is the best known and most applied.


Causing a site to fail by referring too many people to it. High profile and high traffic sites like Slashdot, Fark, or Penny Arcade often cause this when linking to smaller sites.

Fail, Win and Owned/Pwnd



  1. Lunadust8 Said:

    BallonBoy saga or BalloonBoy saga??

  2. Lunadust8 Said:

    Sorry, consider this a kind of wiki…
    another typo:

    forbidden to report on parliamentary procedings.

    = proceedings?

    ps- don’t expect your to approve post, just an fyi. :0)

  3. helenkitty Said:

    Nice post Amy! Covered it all well. Made me giggle at long forgotten memes. 😀

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