Memes existed even before we had the words to refer to them as such. The meme evolution has marked our culture by giving us Pepe the Frog, Doge, Dramatic Chipmunk and, most recently, Bella Hadid’s sneaker interview. But where did the meme even come from?
Richard Dawkins, an English author, coined the phrase back in 1976 in his book “The Selfish Gene” in which memes are to culture as genes are to humans. Essentially, memes make up culture. An article from Wired in 1993 defined memes as “infectious ideas … much as viruses leap from body to body,” but memes didn’t really go off until the rise of the internet or, moreover, the death of AOL.
Even now meme-ologists (those who study memes) can’t determine what the first meme was, as they pre-date the internet. But there are a few contenders out there, one being “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” This image macro meme — a meme with white block letters on the image — premiered back in 2000 and joked at the poor English translation of a 1989 Japanese Saga Genesis game, “Zero Wing.” The video got blasted on news stations and across message boards, igniting the start of the basic meme format.
In a Thrillist interview with memegod Elliot Tebele, otherwise known as FuckJerry, he said, “I think [image macro memes were] when I became aware of memes as a concept, even if I didn’t even really know they were called ‘memes.'”
Another meme, “The Dancing Baby,” started out in a more wholesome manner, different from the hellbent, post-everything-and-anything internet dump of today’s memes. In 1996, graphic designer Michael Girard wanted to show that movement could be programmed and then projected onto different characters, thus birthing Baby Cha-Cha-Cha, better known as “The Dancing Baby.” The video spread around and made it into the hands of a LucasArts employee, who made it into a gif and sent it out in an email chain. In an interview with “Great Big Story,” Girard said he himself received the email and regrets “The Dancing Baby” 100 percent.
But all memes eventually die out due to overexposure, and many animated memes enter the same fate as “The Dancing Baby” — the Uncanny Valley, in which a computer-generated figure resembles a human and we eventually become repulsed by it.
With all the memes we’ve witnessed throughout the years, even meme-masters can’t pinpoint the start, since many of their beginnings were just simple images or videos manipulated over time to their full meme ascension, such as Rickrolling and even the Shake Weight. Instead, we can safely say memes have a few Founding Fathers, who came before the mass meme internet infection and have paved the way to daily memeing. Let the meme evolution run wild.
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