We send them to each other every day, they allow us to make friends, and sometimes they serve as punctuation marks, yet – and even though their existence was theorized as far back as 1976 – it’s hard to know what the first meme of the story is. A bit like urban legends, we rarely know who created a meme and when it was born. But like here, we’re not afraid of crazy investigations, we’ve investigated so you don’t.
Meme From Before (Same) Internet
The first meme would have appeared before the Internet existed, in 1921. Here we are not talking about an ancient work that would be embellished a posteriori with inscriptions to adhere to our 21st century, but for an already complete meme. Conceived over a century ago in comic book form, the meme contains a “Expectations vs. Reality” effective where a stylish young man comes from “How do you think it looks when photographed with flash” AND “What it really looks like”. The drawing was published in judgea satirical magazine from the University of Iowa.
See also in Konbini
Why it might not be a meme: because a meme is meant to be shared from person to person, it is not supposed to flow from a single source to an audience. Furthermore, the design has not been reimagined by a third party, nor has it been taken or diverted to show something else in order to express a universal reaction from a particular situation. It was created as is, including captions.
Why we decide it is one anyway: because in 1976, Richard Dawkins defined a meme as a cultural element that relies on the imitation of human behavior. Hence the cartoon hits the bullseye. Moreover, it is still quite pleasant to imagine that a century ago, our ancestors and ancestors shared the same mood as us – the equivalent of 2023 could be: your reflection in the mirror vs. your phone’s front camera.
TV star meme
In the fall of 1996, six years after the first website went online, an animated image of a dancing baby spinning on a black background was released. Designed by Michael Girard, John Chadwick (two students from, well, Ohio State University, that one again) and Susan Amcloud who had just launched their own animation company, Dancing Baby was basically a standard file used to promote third party software. According to one of its creators asked by BuzzFeedthe video mesmerized the crowds thanks to the technical skills it displayed as well as the felt dissonance between the baby’s tiny body and his adult movements.
Why it might not be a meme: one could argue that the baby is more of a gif than a meme. In the common imagination, a meme is a picture or a drawing that shows something.
Why we decide it is one anyway: although conceived before going out on social media, the video was widely shared by… email. The appearance of “Dancing Baby” in an episode ofMcBeal Alley caused a media frenzy over the video, and a high school student named Rob Sheraton uploaded the file to his site for anyone to download and edit to their liking. And the meme was.
You’ve probably heard of “Godwin’s Law,” which states that “The longer a discussion continues online, the closer the probability of finding a comparison involving the Nazis or Adolf Hitler.” Mike Godwin, the theorist of this empirical law after which he gave his name, described his point as a meme as early as 1994.
In the article titled “meme, countermeme”he explains that he conceived his theory in 1990 as an example of memetics—a field of study that “attempted to apply the concepts of the theory of evolution to the study of human culture” based on the meme concept imagined by biologist Richard Hawkins in his book You are selfishpublished in 1976.
Why it might not be a meme: because it’s not super funny, we grant you, and it’s more of an idea than an image.
Why we decide it is one anyway: because its creator claims it. For him, a meme is “An idea that works in the mind like a gene or a virus works in the body. And an infectious idea (we’ll call it a ‘viral meme’) jumps from mind to mind, just as viruses jump from body to body.”. He wrote that he understood that his experience was “a success” when he saw people quoting the law themselves, without knowing that it came from him.