[Opinion](2018) Internet memes can no longer be new

My opinion.

Internet memes can no longer be new. In my view, 2015 was the pioneering year for the perfection of meme structure and viral reach. 2016 was the perfect year for the use of every perfected structure in line with the rapid viral consumption that ensued as memes became a public norm. The rate in which a meme was killed went from weeks, possibly months, to around a solid 3 to 7 days. The quick death of memes was taken quite well as 2016 was the first year this kind of phenomenon had occured and fresh memes were an abundance so quick death was of no matter due to the stepping stone of the next fresh meme or meme structure. The dawn of January 1st 2017 was the beginning of the end. What would come to be was a year of mediocre ideas using old structures, beaten to death even faster, and probably 5 times less viral quality per month. This has not changed. Memes have become an interest, like joining a jazz club or restoring paintings. We create and curate memes as they are something we now keep as an interest that is part of our persona. Memes are no longer the new big thing and while new memes are made, now that we have already achieved the heights of 2016, there can no longer be any truly new memes. New ideas flow but every which way that you can construct them, it has already been done. So a new idea with a new punchline, is still old because it follows the structure like many memes before it. You can argue that this has always happened over the past 15 years but i would argue that throughout those 15 years, every year was part of the improvement and refinement of the art. Those years are over. The peak has been reached and we cannot fly above the mountain flapping our arms. I still enjoy memes. I still make memes. I still curate large meme groups. But the fact a meme hasnt been done yet doesnt mean the core punchline in its delivery isn't played out. The feeling of Understanding a meme has been done. There are no new memes, just new ideas floating on the corpses of every method of meme delivery.

I posted this May 25th 2018 and i still stand by it. I am also nobody and maybe im wrong so hopefully this helps spur some discussion on the topic


I've been reading the Zohar, a book on Jewish Kabbalah. In it YHWH is said to create the world using every possible permutation of Hebrew letters.

With the arrival and dominance of the Virgin vs Chad meme, it seems like most meme formats are just comparisons of two or more things. The Average Virgin Cheems Fan vs the Average Chad Doge Enjoyer. It's definitely used to dunk on Things I Don't Like, but I've seen quite a few meme pages and FB groups use it almost as an icebreaker to talk about Niche Thing I Just Learned by comparing something relatively esoteric to something very similar, yet different.

Might sound like a schizo post, but now that memes have reached this critical mass or final form where it might be that memes are fulfilling a different purpose these days: creating every possible permutation, or making every comparison that can be (and perhaps a few that can't?)

Like Kramer pondering the orb


That reminds me of the debates about melodies and copyright:

One of the original examples of a meme given by Dawkins is Beethoven's 5th Symphony:

Insofar as new music is still being created, I think we can safely assume that new memes will continue to be made even if the combinatorial possibilities are exhausted. See this table from the first article:


I think this idea has been refuted by the (re?) rise of mass short form video. You see the same aggressive experimentation and compression of memetic time on the platform that you saw at the 2016 era. Not a coincidence that it was when vine was still kicking.

I definitely get nostalgic for that era too but I think that's partially due to the fact that I got older and many of the meme spaces I was in decayed. The creative force is still there, we just have to follow it.


I think the short form videos are a great example. Often they feel like a refined form of "YouTube Poop" content where people are experimenting with extracting particular textures from their videos (e.g. matching low-resolution videos of cats with cartoon sounds; stuff often described as "crunchy").

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I believe this further proves my post to be true. Memes as we knew/know them are dead. The song has been sung. The fact that truly new memes require moving images and audio proves that elvis (creativity) had to leave the building. This is like typewriters being superceded by keyboards. Is a keyboard the latest typewriter? No, it's just where that creativity had to go. My post was regarding the absolute limitation of the medium. An image macro. A static image created and manipulated in as many ways as is possible even if that static image is just written text. We did it and we did it so much that the only way forward was to leave it behind because "internet memes can no longer be new."
Short form videos are new and they are creative and they are alive but it took basically converting a 2D image into a 4D experience for that creativity to have a chance at new life.

And yes i realize we did already have vine prior but that was just the vessel being birthed and was not where we looked for our culture. Now meme culture has set sail using that vessel. Also makes me a bit sad because not only is what we knew a dead medium but short form video browsing is such a time wasting activity that I'm for the most part not participating in because TikTok just has too much to offer and it takes so much time to be engaged consistently.

I guess I'm not committed to memes as image macros exclusively

And i get that and I'm not going to fight for and say memes are and can only be image macros. Thats just where we were and where i was standing in 2018. Memes as we consumed them were still image macros and it took those dying years for the creativity to filter off somewhere else and it makes sense especially if my post is correct that once an image has been done 5 million ways and the next 5 million are just inspired variations, that entering a new dimension where the creative language starts to be solely spoken through moving image and audio is the next step. And i mean sure we always had rickroll/john cena/mlg type videos but i see that as more a sideshow before its time. Image macros to me is maybe like reading a book where its your adventure because it needs some of your imagination/understanding to complete the story. TikTok is the movie adaption for lowered attention spans and a higher thirst for entertaining content. Requires less imagination/understanding whilst having much more dimension/pizzaz.

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I'd love to see a more expanded explanation of this "dimensional model" you are developing. I can see what you mean by richer media requiring less work, but a hallmark of TikTok editing is to omit familiar parts of a video or clip into speech so that you can shave off precious seconds from the end product.

Imagination may be too loaded a term, but the TikTok audience certainly appreciates not being treated like they're new (or stupid), and prefers to "imagine" the missing parts than to be forced to sit through it all (typical of comedy sketches aimed at older audiences, which drag out everything). It suggests to me that there's actually a tension between attention span and imagination (or dimensionality which supplements the imagination).

I don't think it stopped making new ones.

I've been in some new locally made meme groups (usually people trying out new type of content there), and I kept getting new type of memes. I called it memescape, meme using soothing soundscape audio fx.

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Do you have any examples of memescapes on hand (YouTube videos preferred)?

An example.

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Oh, very nice. I've seen these types of videos before and I think you're right to categorise them as a distinct genre. They're virtually the same as the "ayonima" genre in terms of editing, but the sound design is much more calm and relaxing, and the transition between clips that are stitched together is smoother. It produces a dreamlike quality.

Regarding TikTok: my impression is that we’re seeing a re-manifestation of the older mainstream-underground dynamic that was characteristic of the mid-2010s.

‘Re-manifestation’ might not even be an appropriate term, because I’m not sure if that dynamic ever truly died; rather, it would seem to me that things got more stratified. On TikTok, I gather that there are short-lived (yet in terms of sheer reach, immensely popular) fads that get to plenty of normies while being barely recognisable as a meme to innovators on the cutting edge, but now we see a lot more ground inbetween. This makes me think that while the memeosphere used to be more dichotomous, it’s now even more appropriate to see the mainstream and the underground as two poles of a continuous spectrum.

Consequently, my reaction to this is to say that, in terms of audience, TikTok is not very homogenous, and there are audiences on there that don’t like having to do this cognitive gap-filling exercise.* Towards the cutting-edge, though, where memetic literacy is high, dropping superfluous information has the triple effect of saving energy, acting as a shibboleth, and driving the evolution of templates and signifiers.

I think it’s also interesting to think about any potential attention-imagination tradeoff as it might manifest in other media. Literary fiction, for example, demands a lot of attention from both author and audience, and the balance of imagination demanded from both sides is pretty even. Film, on the other hand, is a bit more uneven, with more attention and imagination arguably demanded of the producers of the work (and perhaps a certain pair of Frankfurt School theorists would have much to say here).

* Two asides on this - one, it sort of pareidolically (lol) reminds me of the Kantian ‘free play of the imagination’ (which Kant seemed to think was inherently pleasurable) and two, it somewhat cynically occurs to me that maybe in some cases such ‘free play’ might feel kind of affronting and FOMO-inducing, which could actually work to facilitate a meme’s spread.


This is a thrilling hypothesis and I would love to see it developed further. I wonder what kind of research methodologies we could employ to test it. Your point about the "triple effect" of minimalism in short videos is such a fantastic way to summarise the points. I wonder how it will fare against TikTok's desire to promote longer videos: "The company knows that clips over 60 seconds in length stress users out. That won't stop it from chasing the lucrative long-video market" (TikTok Wants Longer Videos—Whether You Like It or Not | WIRED).

It's neat that you should bring up Kant in thinking about TikTok memes, given that Kantian aesthetics has a normative dimension: for Kant, considering something beautiful is to consider it beautiful for everybody else as well. I wonder if considering something to be a meme is the same. If one considers something to be a meme, does he also have to consider it to be a meme for everybody else as well? Maybe our intuition about what memes are skew Kantian; maybe that's why thirst traps and e-celebrities are so controversial in memecultures, because they seem to prioritise agreeability over (Kantian) "beauty" or "memeticity".


We still have 3D space to make new ideas.