Internet Humor: An Introduction to the Internet

The Internet is a confusing place. I feel that I am a veteran Internet user, and yet in researching for this blog I discovered that in my time on the Internet, I have barely experienced the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. In order to help you understand more thoroughly the things I will be discussing beginning in my next post, I would like to provide a source of information on the Internet, specifically about the humor found there.

A “meme,” which I will focus on heavily during this blog, is “an idea that is propagated through the World Wide Web,” according to Wikipedia.org. A meme can take the form of “a link, video, picture, website, hashtag, or just a word or phrase, such as intentionally misspelling a word,” and generally spreads through the use of Internet forums, blogs, social networks, email, websites, and the news. In layman’s terms, a meme is that thing from the Internet that your friends and seemingly the whole world doesn’t stop talking about for two weeks straight. Then, no one speaks of it again, except to reference the time of obsession or to incorporate it into a new meme.

For example, the music video for “Friday” by Rebecca Black appeared on Youtube in February, 2011. However, it was not until a website, The Daily What, posted the video on March 11, 2011 under the title “Where is Your God Now,” that it became a meme. While a viral video is considered a meme, characters or portions of a viral video can crossover into other forms of meme, such as a picture meme. “Strutting Leo” represents a basic picture meme: using a specific photo of Leo DiCaprio while on the set of Inception, Internet users photoshop DiCaprio into various other pictures. Text can play an important role in picture memes, as captioning often turns an amusing picture in a hysterical one. Know as an “image macro,” either the text or the picture can be the meme, with the same picture taking on different captions or the same text superimposed on different pictures.

Memes originate most notably from Internet forums and comedy websites. An Internet forum contains various discussion on topics posted by site administrators or users. Each discussion can have various “threads,” which constitute a single conversation about a topic in which various users respond to a single, specific comment. Message boards such as 4chan, YTMND, and reddit have gained notoriety as the creators of memes, although such sites more often play the role of the propagator. The Cheezburger collection of sites boasts the main lolcat website site, I Can Has Cheezburger?, as well as Failblog and various other humorous collections of pictures and videos. Interestingly, the meme itself may originate somewhere other than the site and even off the Internet, such as a news station or movie. An Internet meme, then, is often the translation of a part of real world culture for use on the Internet.

An aspect of Internet forums and comment boards which can lead to memes is “trolling,” the act of posting “inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” The intensity of Internet trolls ranges from harmless prankster to malevolent instigator to supercilious poster. Rickrolling, a troll turned meme, features the real world bait-and-switch technique: an Internet user inserts a video link into a conversation or thread, sometime with a misleading explanation or title, but instead of a video that actually pertains, the link instead leads to a video of Rick Astley’s 1987 song “Never Gonna Give You Up”. However, in certain cases Internet trolls have moved away from mere pranks. In this New York Times article, writer Julie Zhuo discusses times when Internet trolls harass the parents of recently deceased children. In one instance, users created fake tribute pages for an 18-year-old who dies in a horrific car crash in California in 2006. Some trolls even emailed leaked pictures of her disfigured remains to her parents with taunting subject lines.

That got dark.

On another subject, certain terms are good to be familiar with when discussing the internet. The acronym NSFW stands for “not safe for work,” as in, inappropriate. This is usually the most warning a website will give you before taking you to something that could qualify as porn. “Win” refers to doing something with amazing skill or luck, while “Fail” means the lack thereof. Terms already defined in this post are good to know. Wikipedia and Know Your Meme provide excellent information on all things Internet and meme related.

Memes and message boards do not exclusively make up Internet humor. The Internet contains satirical news sites, webcomics, humorous articles, and what I like to call “bite size” written comedy (see FML or dearblankpleaseblank), not to mention websites aimed at bringing users all things funny. These sites are not considered memes, as they are not based on specific jokes or situations. Periodically throughout the summer, I will post “intermission” analysis on these sites in order to give a more rounded discussion of Internet humor.

Get ready for a journey full of unicorns and puns as we search together to answer the ever present question, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”

Next post: If you give a cat a cheeseburger…

Comments

  1. imhirama says:

    I’m sending a link to this to my parents. My brother and I were trying to explain “memes” to them at dinner the other night, but I don’t think they really got it…
    (and LOL@the rick roll cake)

  2. twmilbourne says:

    Projects like these are why I love the Monroe program. I look forward to following along.

    Also: if you give a cat a cheeseburger, he will ask for some bacon to go with it….

  3. twmilbourne says:

    Also, are you writing a paper about this? If not, you should.

  4. Anna Glendening says:

    isabel – Wikipedia does a pretty good job at explaining memes. There’s “meme” as unrelated to the internet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme) and then there are Internet-specific memes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme). While I’m only dealing with Internet memes, real world memes are incredibly interesting as well. The word “meme” actually comes from a shortening of mimeme from the Ancient Greek word mimēma, meaning “to imitate.” It is also a pun on the French word “même,” meaning same. The meaning of the word as it is used today and in my blog was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, and refers to evolutionary principles.

  5. Anna Glendening says:

    Tim – I’m not currently writing a paper, but if the blog goes well I might try and compile it into paper just so I have the ideas in one place.

  6. Hmm…have you considered looking at Encyclopedia Dramatica? I know calling it inflammatory is something of an understatement, but I can tell you, hands down, it documents memes better than any other website. Often, entries themselves are created by the people who probably either created, or contributed to the early spread of a meme in the first place. ED can also give you a decent introduction to the larger world of internet humor beyond just the stuff that made a splash large enough to bring it to the attention of “common knowledge” forums like wikipedia.

  7. William Adams says:

    Although they are not always strictly humorous, (much as their in-print counterparts are not) a study dedicated strictly to web-comics would be interesting. Some have a long running story (ex: Order of the Stick), some focus on inside humor, and address issues often found within the group that understands that humor (ex: XKCD) some even give practical advise on what to do or not to do in some cases (ex: Surviving the World). There is enough material in that one section of internet humor to be it’s own study later on.

    That being said, I look forward to seeing a serious (or humorous) analysis of lolcats!

  8. granzini says:

    Yeah, Encyclopedia Dramatica is definitely where you would go to get this sort of thing ‘from the horse’s mouth,’ as it were. Unfortunately, it’s no longer in active development, and is only available now by way of a variety of mirror sites. That, and NSFW doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    Just a quick question, Anna- are you planning on sticking to the western Intarwebs for this one, or are you going to give time to Japanese memes as well? There’s a whole other world of bizarrity out there on 2ch, after all. (Obligatory link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsAOt6snhEc)

  9. Anna Glendening says:

    Greg – I unfortunately will not be delving into the Japanese side of the Internet, as I quite honestly don’t have the time or even the beginning knowledge to accurately research and analyze it. However, I highly recognize and appreciate the Japanese influence on many American memes and their contribution to Internet culture as a whole

  10. I just discovered this post, and it definitely caught my attention! You picked such an interesting subject to research. Thanks for the thorough explanation of what a meme is. I was always under the impression that a meme was just a picture with a funny caption. I don’t know if you mention this in any of your posts, but one of my favorite meme websites is http://www.memestache.com/
    I’m looking forward to reading your other posts!