Memes have been around for a long time (even since before the internet!) but since the internet became mainstream, the popularity of memes skyrocketed. Over time these memes changed and developed, some in very weird ways. The question I’ll be talking about today is what happened between this
During (relatively) early internet times memes were just putting text over certain images. These images were forms of caricature or an animal with a funny expression that carried a certain meaning. Examples are confession bear, succes kid or scumbag steve. Each of this pictures meant something else, the bear looked sad so you used pictures of him to confess to having done something bad, succes kid looked like he had achieved something so that’s what you used him for and scumbag steve looked like, well, a scumbag. You’d take these pictures and put text over them describing either something you had done, like with the bear, or something the picture would say, like with scumbag steve.
Eventually people grew bored of these memes because there are only so many jokes you can make with these formats so new formats started to gain popularity. Together with this development more and more people started looking at and making these memes which meant the amount of jokes that could be made with new formats were made faster and people moved on to new formats faster. So the more users there are the faster these memes develop to a point where they develop inside jokes for which you need to understand the memes of the previous ‘cycle’. The obvious next step is the inside jokes in the inside jokes so that you have to understand the last 2 ‘cycles’. This led to communities on the internet being closed off because ‘outsiders’ did not understand what was going on and how it was funny. Without input from the ‘normal’ outside world the absurdity of some of these jokes went through the roof. This growth of absurdity became a meme in itself with some being referenced in minimal ways, where the whole joke is just that you know a reference from almost no information, like the picture below.
There is also another group of absurd memes which have a different origin. These mems come from the idea that something has to be unknown to be funny. If someone tells you a joke that you’ve already heard, you won’t laugh when the punchline comes because it is not unexpected. The same goes for memes, if you already know what the joke will be at first glance, it won’t be funny anymore. To make sure something is funny you must first make it unexpected, this led to memes that weren’t jokes but were just so unexpected that they were funny only because they were not what you thought they were. After a while these people started to expect the unexpected which meant that you had to go even further to keep it unexpected. This whole thing led to absurdity you would normally only see in modern art because the only way to keep things unexpected is through total absurdity.
So what happened between confession bear and succes kid? A whole lot of people trying to be funny, creative and most of all original, and the only way to originality in such an active and crowded place as the internet is through things no one else could think of because of the absurdity.