Thursday 22 December, 2016

In a year of ‘black swan’ events, memes have played an unmistakeable part in articulating what we have all been feeling.

From expressing opinions on world politics and newsworthy events, to simply providing escapism and a welcome distraction, memes have been a key part of the cultural landscape and narrative of 2016. As we approach the end of the year we’re going to take a look at the best memes from the year.

What exactly is a meme and where did they come from? The term ‘meme’ was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene (Inspired by the Ancient Greek term, mīmēma meaning to ‘imitate’) The term was used to describe the cultural ‘version’ of a gene, where success or failure rests upon the ‘natural selection’ that takes place by people spreading it and passing it on and mutating it (for better or worse).

An example of this evolution is the meme that The Guardian called “the perfect meme for terrible times.” It’s Dark Kermit.  Beginning life as a tweet from 19-year-old Anya Sudarkina, using an image from 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted, expressing the internal dialogue between her good and her evil side.  It has spawned thousands more versions – all covering pretty familiar and relatable subject matter.

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Why did this particular meme strike a chord this year? My theory is that in times of uncertainty it’s a lot more comforting to look inwards at what we can control rather than outwards at the scary world.  The Guardian also hypothesises that geopolitical chaos makes us more willing to succumb to the ‘devil on your shoulder’ character “when the temptation is to throw one’s hands in the air and succumb to our worst impulses.”

Never before has social media been more noisy and influential in shaping the discourse, and no more so than in politics in 2016.  Memes have been able to crystalise a point of view through an image loaded with meaning, without being aggressive.

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Whether expressing discontent with political outcomes – making a hero of the politicians you support or mocking those you don’t – political memes have subtly allowed us to express our opinions and gain a sense of collective satisfaction from knowing that other people agree with us. Behavioural Economics calls this ‘Confirmation Bias’.

Whether the memes of 2016 have kept you smiling or seething, they have undoubtedly made a huge impact this year. We’ll leave you with a handful of our favourites which we think sum up 2016.  Whatever 2017 brings, we think the meme game will be strong!

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