The arduous meme or generational therapy.


What if lolcats could save the world? Behind the LOL, memes have become a real medium, with their own codes, which respond to societal issues. Against the backdrop of a digital native generation in search of meaning. Among others.

From Richard Awkins to Instagram

The concept of a meme appeared long before the Internet, in 1976. "It is an element of the culture of a human society that is replicated and transmitted by the imitation of an individual's behaviour by other individuals. From social groups to social networks, memes take various forms: simple words, phrases, characters, images, gifs, videos, etc. Everything is used, but there are some constants: mimicry, appropriation, sharing and references to a specific community. It is this simplistic recipe that makes their strength.

The mechanics of success

Two ingredients facilitate the success of memes: their quasi-universal character, or at least their relatability to a specific group, and their democratic mode of production. Nothing is easier than creating a meme. A layer of light appearance with deliberately simplistic visual elements (stock image, caption in Comic Sans MS), associated with a sensitive or stupid emotional message, to which one can identify... That's it, the content is sharable: validated by the community, it can spread and evolve according to everyone's creativity.

One mème a day

They are everywhere. From the latest Netflix series to the slightest celebrity faux pas, everything is memeable. Once confined to obscure geek forums, they are now an integral part of pop culture. They are a means of free expression and tackle everything from self-confidence (or self-deprecation) to politics. A medium that costs nothing and reaches millennials? Say no more: brands are using it for marketing purposes to boost the promotion of a film or video game. Thus completing their power grab. Now even the digital mom is affected.

Mème therapy

In 2015, 25% of American teenagers suffered from depressive and anxiety disorders - 60% of whom(1)(2) did not receive appropriate help. And it's not over yet. The WHO estimates that by 2030, the number of deaths and disabilities due to depression will exceed those due to war, accidents or cancer. Internet communities as support groups, the new AA?

A new category, 'wholesome memes', promotes virtuous behaviour - starting with self-respect. They use the same imagery but, far from sarcasm, they convey a message of unconditional love and value "healthy relationships". A bit like the "doggo", the faithful, optimistic and generous animal that embodies this state of mind in a genuine and clumsy way. Be more dog.

The Internet generation is complex: it is searching for itself and trying to free itself from labels. In this quest for meaning, the meme appears as a therapeutic tool for self-legitimisation. 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 confidence-destroying machine? What if the internet could bring us together and give us hope?

(1) Mojtabai 2016
(2) SAMHSA, 2014