The Renaissance: What Does it All Meme?

Sydne Klein, Contributing Reporter

This past summer, out of the deep, dark corners of Twitter, emerged a powerful force, once believed to have been buried in the recesses of the internet: Arthur the aardvark’s fist.

Perhaps one of the most inconspicuous images ever to surface the web, it has been mocked and memed by thousands of Internet users, who cannot seem to find anything funnier than our dear childhood friend’s right fist.

What is it that makes a particular meme so infectious? According to some, like Tulane senior and former Hullabaloo reporter Brandon Ocheltree, it has to do with its “relatability.”

“I feel like it’s very much like a snowball effect,” Ocheltree said. “Once something sort of gains traction, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. We are living in a meme renaissance.”

The art of the meme provides an ever-evolving virtual platform with which diverse minds may express themselves using identifiable humorous mediums.

Within the past decade, the comedic cybersphere has expanded and flourished with internet phenomena ranging from “Grumpy Cat” to the late Harambe to the “Numa-Numa Guy.”

In fact, the meme itself existed long before that, even before Twitter and Facebook. The first meme goes back centuries.

Some scholars identify the earliest meme dating back to A. D. 79 The Sator-Rotas word-square, as described by Christopher Howse of The Telegraph, is an ancient five-word palindrome which no one has been able to translate correctly.

The square has been spotted amidst the ruins of Pompeii, scrawled on the walls of medieval English churches and scratched on the remains of Roman military garrisons in Syria.

Memes, similar to the Sator-Rotas square, cleverly relay and spread motifs across the globe and leave interpretation to various audiences and cultures.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in 1976 to describe an element of culture, perhaps song lyrics or an idea, that passes from one individual to another, typically by imitation.

As memes pass from person to person, their meanings change. Dawkins theorized that memes are in a constant survival of the fittest fight with one another for a very limited resource — human attention. On the battlegrounds of the internet, only the funniest survive.

Functional, replicable and entertaining to some, internet memes have forever altered the way in which human beings provide and digest information.

Successful memes, according to Dawkins, are an infection which, in their novelty, spread like a plague throughout society. The origin, popularity and fate of a meme — like an unstoppable virus — is a challenge to trace and nearly impossible to contain.