Meme Report: Girl Explaining
I'M TELLING YOU, IT'S SCIENCE!!1!11!
Oh hi reader, and welcome to a new series
from Always Beta College, brought to you by
Love + Money: the Meme Report.
Now, because you’re obsessed with us, you’ll have noticed we’ve been talking a lot about memes—a brand is a meme after all. And for all that talk about memes, we haven’t actually written a lot about funny pictures, videos, and sounds on the Internet.
See, while an hilarious pic of Gene Wilder leaning on his wrist will always be relevant in conversation, it’s not clear why. We want to right that wrong.
So welcome to the Meme Report, where we apply one of the most foundational theories in science to said funny pictures on the Internet.
Memes are replicators, so by way of Universal Darwinism they must have three features to survive (and evolve). They must be to be Selected, have Variation and Heredity.
Get it? You will. This week is all about Girl Explaining.
According to Meme authority Know Your Meme, this image is actually of an Argentinian woman singing romantically into the ear of her (ex)boyfriend back in 2018, and while it’s iconic—the image alone isn’t a meme, what makes it one then? Let’s break it down Darwinian style (a phrase no one wants to hear again); Selection, Variation, Heredity.
In order to be selected, a meme must be both desirable and distinctive. Someone needs to find something about interesting in the context of the environment (this corner of the Internet), there’s something in this image that someone see’s a version of themselves in that they don’t see in anything else in that environment.
In a since deleted tweet @LejosEnBerlin is the person attributed with captioning this image first.
So @LejosEnBerlin saw something along the lines of a gay man being berated by a presumably straight chick and its maybe relatable to their circle of friends? They’ve seen this image and interpreted it to then share. Supposedly 40 people liked it, and that was the start of the meme.
So, the meme is created, someone has seen something in it, added to it and shared it. The key thing here is they’ve added to it. We interpret things in our own way, so what’s shared, however similar visually, arrives with new information, new context and new creativity. When memes vary they must be distinctive, in that we can recognise what it was, and didactic in that they must come with their own instructions for the next person to share - we see this all the time with a variety of meme formats. You get it because you know it, and you have your own take on it. You’re creative sweetie.
As Girl Explaining was changed others selected it, and then they changed it. Some popular meme sites even dropped the whole caption and replaced it with “girl shouting at boy”, amazing in its own right, and somewhat similar to a meme from a couple years earlier...
Overexplanation, mansplanation, being spoken to in ways about things you’d rather not hear in inappropriate situations is something a lot of us know the feeling of. In fact, it’s a feeling that transcends most human barriers. We’re so aware of this idea in culture that it’s no wonder that a meme like Girl Explaining has resurfaced with a vengeance, this time with less Spanish.
Similar ideas, constellations of ideas that dominate an environment (like that of overexplanation at the wrong time in the wrong place) can be referred to as Memeplexes. Seriously.
Memeplexes – are found cohabiting in individual brains. This is not because selection has chosen them as a group, but because each separate member of the group tends to be favoured when its environment happens to be dominated by the others.
– Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine
And when the environment presented is one that suits this idea, all chaos breaks loose. It’s interpreted multiple times, simultaneously, everywhere. All the while referencing the format (staying distinct) and suggesting how it should be shared (didactic).
The meme spreads mediums, it spreads formats, cultures, communities. The idea constantly evolves, and with it the invitation to share it again. In fact sharing it, passing down its traits is central to its DNA. These ideas are selfish, they spread to survive, not with any sentience or motive, but rather because those that share them (literally us right now) are compelled to by nature. We share these things because we care, sharing them gives us the opportunity to check where we are in our context, are we hip or cheugy? Do people like us or loathe us? Please, someone hold me.
We share our ideas to maintain a dialogue with each other, and as we do the ideas develop and the cycle continues. So long as it’s desirable and distinct it will be selected. If we can insert ourselves into the story, while still recognising what’s going on (variation), we’ll be compelled to share. And if we do it on the Internet, the rate at which we share, and the variations that are shared continue to fight for attention and hold space.
All’s to say, if you see a funny picture on the Internet, it’s a meme. And a meme is science. When we develop brands, we do so such that they’re fit for their environment. We introduce our powerful idea such that it can be Selected, we know we can’t prescribe how it’s Interpreted, so we invest in building systems that suggest how it might be shared. This means that our audience is the one authoring its Heredity. If your idea is memetic, it’s powerful, meaning the environment will take it a long way further than any branding or marketing budget could. A good brand is a meme.
What do you reckon? Are you convinced? Disagree? Do you have any questions? We’d love to hear them.
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