This is a blog post about memes. I’m not even going to try and hide it.

By Kate Trewin, Class of 2016

Everyone in the world loves a good meme, and everyone’s ideas on what a good meme are vary widely, but we love them none the less. Why is this? Well, science might have the answer!

Classic Boromir ‘One does not simply…’ meme – image via quickmeme

To begin with, lets delve into what makes a meme; the most common memes are your well known ‘advice animals’ such as Success Kid, Scumbag Steve, and Socially Awkward Penguin that everyone will have seen at least once. These memes are usually short and punchy text with distinct meaning pertaining to the image. Then you get your video memes like Double Rainbow (god I hope people remember this one and I’m not actually so bloody old no one knows it) and the other beautiful hits by Songify This, or HEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA. Followed by the last category of memes which don’t have an official name, but I’m going to call them ‘others’ (genius aren’t I), these can be anything from posts on me_irl, Nihilist memes, or even our own glorious Melbourne Uni Stalker Space (which we all need to do more stalking on please) you get the idea. Whatever your sense of humour, there’s a meme out there for you.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself ‘Kate, this is a science blog, can you give me some science and stop talking about memes? Are you really this sad?’ well yes, yes I am that sad. But also here is some science, so shut up and keep reading and then leave some cool comments that facilitate discussion so I get dem tasty H1s. I’m so sorry.

Anyway… scientists have started delving into what makes a meme popular, why things go viral, and how this could be extrapolated to predict what will go viral next. Which is good news if you want to advertise something because maybe science can tell you how to do a good job (unlike you The Blind Factory, no one likes your radio ads, STOP IT). The science of memes or ‘memetic theory’ looks into these burning questions, and suggests that memes compete in a Darwinian type battle where they compete for reproduction (sharing), and evolve as time goes on, I wish I was joking.   A common way of describing this is by using the spoked wheel theory – where one person makes a spoked wheel wagon, another sees it and replicates it. Three more people see these two wagons and the process continues until there are hundreds of wagons. Coming up with a spoked wheel might have been easy in the earlier days of the internet where the coolest meme was a lolcat, but now we’re spoilt for choice, there’s a lot of spoked wheel concepts around, which ones do we all choose to replicate?

Us too Mugatu – image via Quickmeme

So again, what makes a meme go viral? Well memetic theory suggests that to go viral a meme should be interesting, simple, catchy, funny, and engaging. Which seems to make sense, but it doesn’t account for differences in taste, demographic, or culture which could all make marked impacts on whether a meme spreads in a particular area or not. To me, the ideal meme is one that is funny, simple, and relatable or one that is completely nonsensical (here comes dat boi).

Tell me, what are your favourite memes, and why?