During the last decade, the increased popularity of user-generated content sites such as YouTube (est. 2005) and 4chan (est. 2003) and redistribution sites reddit (est. 2005) and Digg (est. 2004) has transformed the internet’s visual culture. Internet memes – easily replicated ideas, catchphrases, symbols and practices – rapidly circulate online and reflect the growing tendency for users to appropriate and remix cultural forms as part of their online experience. No longer simply an in-joke between a small group of users, the mass appeal of internet memes points to their broader social significance and influence on contemporary visual culture.
Internet memes draw upon a variety of sources, relying on the ease of access to source materials and subsequent ease of distribution afforded by new technologies. They gain currency through the fast spread of commentary and development of new derivations. Memes exploit aspects of language, marketing strategies, news and popular culture, and, self-reflexively, they also create pastiches of the technologies, attitudes and practices of internet users. They take the form of image macros (images superimposed with text), viral videos and other forms of propagated text and imagery posted online as disparate and emergent responses to pop culture and current affairs.
This display of internet memes maps the emergence of the phenomenon as a key element of 21st-century visual culture. The project brings together a wide variety, and reflects the popularisation of particular trends, strategies and approaches throughout the decade. ‘Image macros and catchphrases’ features humorous juxtapositions of image and text, along with replicated catchphrases which often feature poor grammar and crude animations. ‘Viral videos and internet celebrities’ focuses on the personalities that have been created and redistributed online, spawning countless remixes and mashups. ‘News crossovers and commentary’ considers the events, news reports and ironic objects of interest that have been hijacked to become the subject of parodies.