How have memes changed over the 2010s?

Cameron Iizuka, Web&Social Media Manager, Columnist

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If time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future, where will we go. Famed streetwear aficionado and designer Virgil Abloh recently said, in an interview with “Dazed Magazine,” that “I would say [streetwear is] gonna die, you know?” Though shocking and unexpected for him to say, considering his entire career has been founded on re-shaping high fashion into the “street” aesthetic of today, he also said we’ll be switching from newer fast-fashion towards vintage. He said, “In my mind, how many more t-shirts can we own, how many more hoodies, how many sneakers? I think that like we’re gonna hit this like, really awesome state of expressing your knowledge and personal style with vintage.” While very cool, Virgil, I don’t think this trend of clothing evolution will carry over in another genre: memes.

Memes, as this lovely timeline [pictured above] represents, have evolved heavily since their conception, with the original phrase dating back to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.” His definition was one entirely void of the internet, and instead founded on an idea coming from the greek mimēma meaning “that which is imitated,” like a gene. This foundational idea of memes hold true when considering the overall timeline of the 2010s meme evolution.

Derived rom stock photos, 4Chan drawings or sometimes animals and babies, early 2010s memes had impact-styled font and very generalized ideas of work droll, general epiphanies, or weird grammar (think “Can I haz cheeseburger cat” and derp memes). The early 2010s saw the emergence of Vine and ifunny, as well as increased traction for meme pages that would come later in the form of Twitter and Instagram. Viral videos from this era surprisingly consist of a lot of news interviews and audio dubs with heavy editing.

Moving into the mid 2010s, more challenges and dances became memes, notably the Tide Pod Challenge, Cinnamon Challenge, Harlem Shake, Watch Me Whip, and Dougie. Memes were beginning to achieve “normie” status as more and more earned widespread appeal and media coverage. Some memes, like “the Dress” still receives re-iterations that pop-up every now and then through things like Yanny v. Laurel.

In the last few years, some of the most memorable funny moments have been trends on the internet. With the emergence of Tiktok, acting as a replacement for the void that Vine left and Musical.ly could not fill, creators often follow trends of dances and jokes in order to gain traction for their channels. Like the original guidelines of memedom, our social spheres have now become rinse-and-repeat meme factories through a prevalence of content snatching and idea borrowing. So by a meme’s very definition, “that which is imitated,” our viral ability to spread memes as quickly as possible create dozens if not hundreds of new meme formats each year.

While the fate of streetwear will apparently go off the deep end, I’m not so sure memes will have the same fate. Certainly, society won’t go back into the dark ages of “vintage” tech, but as far as meme evolution goes, perhaps we will only get more abstract and conceptually niche, far beyond the references of today and into the distant, but predictable scope of tomorrow.