History of Internet Memes


Like all phenomena, Internet memes also had a major breakthrough. The term meme is defined as “a cultural idea…that self-replicates and spreads among people” (as cited in PCWorld) and was first used by Richard Dawkins. The term Internet meme is defined similarly with the exception that the idea spread virally. An Internet meme can range from a moving icon, image or video; the idea is to get this concept viral and popular no matter how ridiculous it really is. The very first Internet Meme that came to prominence came in 1996, where the meme consisted of a dancing animated baby. Internet memes slowly started to make its way to the web, which saw an increase in Internet use. Reportedly in 1999, site views increased dramatically, with the numbers jumping from “four views to 15,000 per day” (as cited in PCWorldWeb).

Memes began slowly emerging throughout the years, seemingly with every year having a stand out meme. Memes can be seen as a way to get “15 minutes” of fame on the Internet and gain popularity. With the rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, memes have continued to emerge and spread even more rapidly.

Dawkins explained this theory of imitation and parodies similar to evolution theory. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (as cited in Kilpinen, 2008, p. 219).

Internet Superstars have also been a result of this viral spread that dominates the web continually. PCWorldWeb has a list of the past decade’s most famous Internet superstars that have gained temporary fame through memes. Who could forget Chris Crocker’s infamous “Leave Britney Alone” plead during the pop star’s turbulent times? The video gained millions of views in a matter of days and was parodied by actors such as Seth Green and millions of web users. Chris Crocker himself has made numerous television programs on VH1 and Maury to discuss his newfound fame. But like Crocker, most Internet stars with famous memes eventually fad away and “step aside” for another new fad of memes. Unless your video is “Charlie Bit my Finger,” which continues to be on the top list featured videos on YouTube almost four years after its release, most memes are intended to last only for a bit.

Speaking about memes and its correlation with the Internet, Quinnipiac University Professor Alex Halavais explains that, “There’s no clear recipe for getting something to go viral. It needs to be easily remembered and passed on… It needs to retain coherence. It can’t mutate too quickly. [And] it can’t be entirely stable.” Regarding this idea, most memes have remained popular due to its hilarious “out of this world” theme that is accessible to watch online and creative randomness that take people unexpectedly. “For better or for worse, members of the new generation of meme makers are doing their best to make a buck or two online—and largely succeeding” (as cited in Ruburg. 2009, p. 34). Even a random video lasting a few seconds that many would find weird can launch someone to stardom which leads to a popular fan base or opportunities to other branches; this is an example to just how powerful memes online can be to an individual.

Memes have also gained much popularity to be used in other sources of media, such as TVs or films. An example would be the wedding dance titled “Jill and Kevin’s Bug Day,” which would later be featured in an episode of “The Office,” where it saw guests dancing down the aisle to a Chris Brown song. The video reached millions of views and continues to be one of the most watched and parodied videos on the web. The parody on the show was also well-received and watch by millions of viewers. The dance alone influenced brides and grooms across the nation to come up with another creative way to walk down the aisle. It is safe to say that Jill and Kevin’s video influenced a new tradition to custom weddings. “Richard Dawkins regarded memes as possessing viral tendencies: their ability to propagate is genetically predetermined” (as cited in Savirimuthu, 2005, p. 322).

The Office Wedding-JK Wedding Entrance

Internet memes have started in the late 1990s, and have continued to soar in numbers over a decade later. With social media and technology continuing to increase, the uses of memes will continue with no clear of stopping any time soon, especially since memes is not resorted to being one main source. Memes can come from videos, images or graphics that spreads the web and impacts the web universe.

“Since the Internet plays such a central role in today’s world and mirrors society in so many ways, Internet data can be used for tracking and verification of mimetic spread, as investigated in,” (as cited in Wang & Wood, 2011, p. 5442). Memes from pictures, captions videos, or icons have caused cultural and viral impacts that have entertained millions of Internet users in various ways. The lasting effect of a meme can entertain people from different cultures for many years and influence many ideas. Memes have even become a source for someone to get famous quick and reach stardom.


Kilpinen, E. (2008). Memes versus signs: On the use of meaning concepts about nature and culture. Semiotica, 171(1-4), 215-237. doi:10.1515/SEMI.2008.075

Ruberg, B. (2009). Cash in on the internet memes phenomenon. PC World, 27(8), 33.

Savirimuthu, J. (2005). Open source, code and architecture: It is the Memes stupid. International Review Of Law, Computers & Technology, 19(3), 341-362. doi:10.1080/13600860500348663

Wang, L. , & Wood, B. (2011). An epidemiological approach to model the viral propagation of memes. Applied Mathematical Modelling, 35(11), 5442.




About Internet Memes

Hello class, my name is Doreace Walls and I am a Communications major concentrating in Public Relations. This is my third year attending Cal State, and before last quarter I had no interest in Public Relations what so ever. This is my first quarter taking any Public Relations courses and I enjoy them all very well so far. I am very new to blogging, and I must say I do not really enjoy it that much. When thinking about my "online identity" I would say that it is pretty slim to none. Although I do have and use Facebook, Twitter, IM, and email I am not an avid user and none of them tend to destract me from my studies, or have any impact on my personal life what so ever. I will say that the network that I am most on is Facebook, but most of my internet time is spent either for school purposes or searching for jobs and internships. 162694_170400206326959_100000709436058_408282_6063817_n.jpg (18.017 KB) My name is Brittney Birks. I am a 22 year old 4th year senior here at Cal State University. I plan to graduate in the spring of 2012 finally! It seems like it has taken me for ever to finish up my last bit of classes. I am majoring in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Communications. I chose communications as a concentration because I took a communications class by accident and fell in love with the aspects of the major. From then on out I knew that I was going to add communications into my degree somehow. After school I plan on staying at my current job with ArrowHead Credit Union as a teller 2 until I can find employment with an elementary school. I have a very limited online identity and I am hardly ever online, due to my crazy hectic schedule. I work two jobs. One is here on campus as a student mentor, which is part time. The other is (like mentioned before) with ArrowHead Credit Union as a full time teller. The only digital media networks that I engage in is Facebook, which I check about twice a week. I don't play any online games nore am I on any other social media networks. I guess I am a pretty dry person, but I am hoping to gain some kind of knowledge about the networks out there to offer from this class. 104_0176.JPG My name is LaTecia Yarbrough and I am a 3rd year communication major with an emphasis in Public Relations. I am 20 years old and one of the first in my family to go college. I also happen to love my school California State University of San Bernardino. I currently work for CSUSB housing and also live on campus as well. Something interesting about myself is I am the only child, I love the Lakers and the show house. To add to that, I can honestly say that I have never had a facebook account, but I do have a Twitter;%2

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