Where do Memes Originate From?
Rewind to 1976 when Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene. In his book, he coined the word meme and describes it as a cultural evolution and the spreading of ideas - fashion, melodies, etc.
Fast forward to today and you've got the modern meme representing people in unison using cultural symbols and social ideas through visual communication - on the Internet, duh!Let take a look at which memes had what it takes to be ranked among the top of the decade.
Peak Year: 2017
Votes: 1,169 (5.2%)
Drew Scanlon's immortal reaction GIF is nothing short of a meme masterpiece. His earnest surprise gave the world a gift it didn't know it needed, a double-take GIF that expressed a level of shock we, as humans, had long-been ignoring. The Blinking White Guy continues to encapsulate the power of the GIF, providing the internet with something that emojis and emoticons just could not deliver: movement. Sure, you could send a wide-eyed emoji, but does that capture the nuance of Scanlon's head-tilt and knee-jerking blinking? No.
Over the last five years, the internet and internet users have gone through many transformations, and Scanlon's face has been there for us, when someone makes a horrible tweet, when the news defies rationality or when a memer has a bizarrely specific take on a new meme. The Blinking White Guy is the GIF of the decade, likely blinking its way into the 2020s.
Peak Year: 2016
Votes: 1,220 (5.4%)
Harambe is the forced meme of the decade, willed into existence by collective irony and nihilism. The popularity of the infamously executed gorilla stemmed from the national coverage of a child that fell into the ape's pen at the Brownsville Zoo in Gladys, Texas. Outrage regarding the event, particularly the death of the gorilla Harambe, a member of the critically endangered species of western gorillas, birthed a series of mocking tributes that argued that people actually didn't care about this.
It was a war of attrition to keep Harambe memes in the public consciousness, despite never actually being funny. Aside from the edgelords who, like some sort of bastardized version of Heath Ledger's Joker, saw the real joke in society was caring about endangered species, did anyone actually find Harambe funny or worth continuing? It seemed more likely it was a bait-and-switch attempt to get people riled up so that shitposters could respond "U mad?" Still, there's one less gorilla thanks to an adult and a zoo's collective negligence. Hilarious.
Peak Year: 2014
Votes: 1,232 (5.5%)
Since 2011, stock photographs of Hungarian senior model András Arató have circulated across various meme communities online, where he earned himself the nickname Hide the Pain Harold. After originally gaining a following on the Facepunch forums, his photos spread to Facebook, Imgur, Reddit and YouTube, where he was even adopted as the face of YouTuber Internet Historian.
It's remarkable Harold memes have continued to remain relevant over the years, and that Arató himself even discussed his experience becoming a meme at a Tedx Talk in September 2018. It's for this reason that Hide the Pain Harold takes the crown for stock photo meme of the entire decade.
Peak Year: 2018
Votes: 1,236 (5.5%)
Where does one start with Ricardo Milos, the insanely popular, scantily clad mover and shaker that somehow managed to completely sidestep mainstream meme coverage? The dancing adult model, his patriotic thong underwear and undeniably cool soul patch made for shitposts and remixes, but somehow, meme-doms shields protected him from the larger world. Normies never touched Milos, keeping him pure and unsullied by the larger culture.
Milos lack of coverage, both in the media and Twitter, didn't stop the meme from becoming iconic. Awash in a sea of sightings, conspiracy theories and copycats, "Milos" sustained credibility for nearly a decade, never becoming overused or overexposed. In a memescape littered with disposable pieces of internet ephemera, "Dancing Ricardo Milos'" stayed fresh as memers never tired of his gyrations, his smile and his raw sexual energy.
Peak Year: 2012
Votes: 1,324 (5.9%)
It's hard to believe that at one point in the last 10 years, these MS Paint-style webcomics were some of the most popular memes on the entire web. Starting back in 2008, the first Rage Comics were born on 4chan's /b/ (random) board, with the introduction of the character Rage Guy. The following year, the infamous f7u12 subreddit was kicked off, where users submitted their own comic creations featuring an ever-growing cast of illustrated characters.
2012 appears to have been the peak of their popularity, as they were even featured in the New York Times as a way to alleviate stress. However, interest rapidly fell off in the coming years, as Rage Comics drifted into internet obscurity. While they are no longer the titans they once were, ironic versions have seen brief moments of popularity, as seen with the recent resurgence of Mom Can You Give Me Money? variations.
Peak Year: 2018
Votes: 1,729 (7.7%)
The internet is at its best when it turns something awful (pun intended) into a legend. Such is the case with “Loss,” arguably the most legendary Bad Thing turned into a meme in the history of the internet.
Tim Buckley’s infamous 2008 Ctrl+Alt+Del strip represented a perfect storm of cringe that has resonated online for over 11 years. The cheap, boob-joke heavy video game webcomic’s sudden turn towards the gravely serious topic of miscarriage was such an emotional whiplash for readers, they couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief at Buckley’s comically oversized chutzpah and complete butchering of tone. The comic became a legend of the Something Awful forums but broke into the mainstream in the 2010s as one of the most singularly bizarre memes of internet culture.
In the 2010s, a surge of “minimalist” interpretations of the comic trolled social media users for years. The comic’s now-iconic “I, II, II, I_” format became brilliant shorthand for internet users to show off their creativity and understanding of deep internet lore. “Loss” is one of the rare memes that evolved into not only a popular joke but a vehicle for art. It was particularly inescapable in the latter half of the decade, when webcomic artists and memers stretched their own creative prowess to insert Loss into everything. This ultimately caused the meme’s popularity to decline but not before it reached the upper echelon of the internet’s most iconic memes.
Peak Year: 2014
Votes: 2,335 (10.4%)
The internet has a funny way of turning silly moments into enduring slang. In this decade, we saw the rise of “Milkshake Duck” and “Bruh Moment,” but perhaps no silly slang became as surprisingly widespread as “Press F to Pay Respects.” The moment was borne from a goofy Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare prompt where the player character, attending a funeral, has to actively press a button to mourn. It was hardly an elegant way to handle emotional gravity, but that made it all the more ripe for memeing: if there’s one thing the internet loves, it’s media that tries and fails to be serious.
After the game’s release, “F” became internet shorthand for all sorts of mourning. After any death, be it literal or, say, social death by self-ownage, social media users flooded chats and threads with the letter. “F” was a joke, but it morphed into a not altogether insincere way of expressing actual respects, an irony-poisoned generation’s way of writing “RIP.”
Peak Year: 2017
Votes: 3,634 (16.2%)
The internet can be a pretty, uh, rotten place sometimes, which makes its wholesome stories all the sweeter. The most wholesome “internet” story of the decade was, bar none, that of Stefán Karl Stefánsson, portrayer of LazyTown villain Robbie Rotten. Robbie Rotten became a meme in the latter half of 2016, when the hottest memes were YouTube Poops that replaced lyrics in songs with humorous clips. Arguably the most popular of these was “We Are Number One,” Rotten’s villainous anthem (and all-around banger) from the LazyTown episode “Robbie’s Dream Team.” The meme was incredibly popular, ultimately being named KnowYourMeme’s meme of 2016, but what made the meme all the sweeter was Stefán Karl’s unabashed embrace of it. The man genuinely loved the memes, and the internet loved him back ten times over.
Sadly, Karl was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, just as “We Are Number One” was becoming popular. What followed was an incredible relationship between Karl and memers. As Karl battled the illness, memers continued to create Robbie Rotten memes, as though through sheer memeing they could help cure him. For a while, it almost seemed to work; doctors said Karl was free of cancer in mid-2017, but the cancer came back in 2018 and Karl passed later that year. The tributes on social media to a man cemented his legacy; the memes became less simple jokes and more recognition from internet users everywhere of one of earth’s great humans. Stefán Karl may be gone, but he will forever be number one for those to whom Karl was more than a meme, but a role model and a reminder of how great the internet can be.
Peak Year: 2015
Votes: 4,890 (21.8%)
The story of Pepe the Frog is undeniably one of the most bizarre tales in internet history. There are few memes that have remained culturally relevant for quite as long or become nearly as controversial.
The anthropomorphic frog originated in artist Matt Furie's 2005 comic series Boy's Club, where he was famously depicted urinating with his pants around his ankles because it "feels good man." On 4chan, a cropped image of the character saying those famous words became one of the site's most popular reaction images, leading to other variations like Sad Frog, Angry Pepe and Smug Frog.
In many ways, 2015 was the peak of Pepe's internet fame, as images of the character known as Rare Pepes began circulating like wildfire. One diabolical 4chan user to attempted to "flood the market" by releasing a trove of Rare Pepe images online, hoping to crash their value. During this period, Pepe also began getting more mainstream exposure after being posted by celebrities like Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and even Donald Trump.
In the months leading up to the 2016 United States presidential election, things began taking a dark turn. First, there was a small campaign supposedly orchestrated by users on 4chan's /r9k/ board to "reclaim Pepe from normies," which aimed to make Pepe distasteful to mainstream audiences by creating bigoted an offensive depictions of the character. Then, Donald Trump Jr. posted a photoshopped picture featuring Pepe on his Instagram, and the Hillary Clinton campaign published a blog post referring to Pepe as a "white supremacist meme" and "white nationalist symbol." Many fans of Pepe were confused, as they had never even been exposed to bigoted variations of the beloved meme character.
While many continue to think of Pepe as a "hate symbol," the character is still thriving on sites like Twitch in a variety of absurdly popular emotes, including Pepega, MonkaS and Poggers, which are completely divorced from politics and bigotry. Most recently, in an even more bizarre turn of events, Pepe was recently embraced by anti-extradition bill protesters in Hong Kong as a symbol against oppression and police brutality.
Peak Year: 2013
Votes: 5,513 (24.6%)
Kabosu, the Shiba Inu more commonly known as “Doge,” had one of the most bewildering but nonetheless influential journeys through meme culture in the 2010s. At first, she was a titan of animal memes that flooded the internet of the early 2010s. Alongside Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub, and Gabe the Dog, Doge ruled mainstream meme culture. Her apparent smirk (and overall adorableness) helped popularize her iconic series of comic sans-heavy, “much wow” image macros, precursors to the “heckin good doggo” speak that would come to define how the internet talked about dogs for the remainder of the decade.
But then in 2017, something bizarre happened. Doge reentered the memesphere in ironic edits which applied the character to a variety of increasingly absurd situations. It’s not uncommon for an old meme to reappear in ironic edits after the height of their popularity, but usually resurgences are used for cringe humor, making fun of a meme we once thought was popular. This was not the case with Doge. Doge became more versatile and, improbably, more hilarious than before. Thanks to some brilliant photoshopping, Doge could be warped beyond recognition, placed at the site of some of history’s greatest disasters, or turned into an intense lover of feet. That versatility helped Doge end the 2010s as the vehicle for some of the most creative memes on the internet, years after it broke through as one of the internet’s most popular memes. Much wow. Such 1.