The Omniscient Meme as Generational Therapy.

The Omniscient Meme as Generational Therapy.
What if lolcats could save the world? Behind the LOL, memes have become a real medium, with its own codes, which responds to societal issues. Against the backdrop, a native digital generation in search of meaning. Among others.

From Richard Dawkins to Instagram

The concept of meme appears well before the Internets, in 1976. "Element of the culture of a human society replicated and transmitted by the imitation of the behavior of an individual by other individuals". From social groups to social networks, memes take various forms: simple word, sentence, character, image, gif, video ... Everything goes there but constants remain: mimicry, appropriation, sharing and references to a community very precise. It is in particular this extremely simple recipe that is their strength.

The Mechanics of Success

Two ingredients facilitate the success of memes: their almost universal character, or at least relative value for a specific group, and its democratic mode of production. Nothing is easier than creating a meme. Take a deliberately simplistic visual element (stock image, caption in Comic Sans MS), slap on a message of your choice, which can be emotionally sensitive or downright daft – as long as people can identify with it. That's all there is to it: The content is now  sharable. Once approved by the community, it can spread and evolve according to the whims or wisdom of the crowd.

One Meme a Day

Memes are everywhere: From the latest Netflix series to a celebrity's smallest faux pas, everything is a potential meme. Previously confined to obscure geek forums, they are now an integral part of pop culture. They represent a means of free expression and tackle everything from self-confidence (or self-deprecation) to politics. A media that costs nothing and allows it to reach millennials? Say no more: brands use it for marketing purposes to boost the promotion of a film or video game. Even the digital mom is now being targeted.

Tell me what you like ...

… I will tell you who you are! Memes are recursive, they mirror the anonymous people who create them. They make it possible to evoke personal subjects badly lived but overlooked by the implacable society of the win: lack of confidence, recognition, depression, anxiety, mental disorders, burn or bore out… Humor helps to de-dramatize stigma and anxieties. Acid self-mockery unites the community around shared suffering and individual discomfort takes on an international dimension. A so 2019 way to feel loved.

Meme Therapy

In 2015, 25% of American teens suffered from depression and anxiety disorders, and 60%(1) (2) of them did not receive appropriate help. And it's only the beginning: The WHO estimates that by 2030, the number of deaths and disabilities due to depression will exceed the number of deaths due to war, car accidents and cancer. Are Internet communities thus the new support groups – the new AA?

A new category, “wholesome memes,” encourage virtuous behavior - starting with self-respect. They use the same imagery but, far from sarcasm, they send back a message of unconditional love and value “healthy relationships”. A bit like the “doggo”, the loyal, optimistic and generous animal who authentically and clumsily embodies this state of mind. Be more dog.

The Internet generation is complexed: it seeks itself and seeks to free itself from labels. In this quest for meaning, the meme appears as a therapeutic tool to self-legitimize. It also represents a marker of our time. The evolution of themes reflects the ills of our society and the awareness of digital natives.

What if Instagram and its more than perfect profiles were no longer a machine to undermine self-confidence? What if the Internet could bring us together and give us hope?

(1) Mojtabai 2016

(2) SAMHSA, 2014