Pop Cultured: Memes: A worldwide phenomenon

Memes have become an integral part of our culture and one of our most important means of modern communication. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

If our generation does not run on memes, I’m not sure what does. Memes have become an integral part of American culture, as well as the culture of many others. The history of the word meme began in the 1970s with British biologist, Richard Dawkins. According to Merriam Webster, originally, “meme” was taken from the Greek word “mimema,” meaning imitated. Dawkins used memes to explain ideas that spread from one person to another within a culture. The word was not added to the dictionary until the 1990s.  

The word evolved to its current definition, “as an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media,” according to Merriam Webster. Memes are on every social media platform and have great cultural significance, according to an Information Today article titled, “It’s a Meme World After All: An Examination of the Cultural Impact of the Internet Meme.”  

In China, the term “drink hot water,” has become a meme in recent years. Culturally, Chinese people often like to drink hot water regardless of the weather, according to an article titled, “Why Do Chinese People Drink Hot Water?” They like to drink hot water because traditional Chinese medicine stated hot water can aid digestion and help aid recovery from illnesses, according to the article. The phrase developed into a meme where whenever someone complains of a problem, Chinese teens would say “drink more hot water” as a sarcastic joke. 

A couple of years ago, another popular meme in China  was Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig is a British children’s television show introduced in 2015 to viewers in China, according to an article titled, “From Peppa Pig to giant babies, these memes took over China’s internet in 2018.” Chinese Tiktok (Douyin) was what brought the pig to popularity. Douyin users gave Peppa a makeover. They designed her with sunglasses, a cigarette and chain necklaces. Terming her a “She hui ren,” also known as a slang term for gangster. Peppa represented rebellious teens and those who want to live a carefree life, according to the article. The article also mentioned that the Chinese government felt Peppa Pig would corrupt children and had censored Peppa Pig for a while before restoring it to television.  

Due to the pandemic, many wear masks and sometimes gloves. Well, for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was a yellow hazmat suit that became a meme all around Russia last March. Putin had planned to visit and praise medical workers as he visited an infectious diseases hospital in Kommunarka, located on the outskirts of Moscow. The visit was random and it was the first time Russian officials finally recognized the severity of the disease, according to ABC in an article titled “Putin dons hazmat suit, as Russia admits virus numbers likely far higher.”  

As Russian media outlets broadcasted his visit to Russian citizens, the yellow hazmat suit Putin wore stole the show. Russian citizens started to meme him, calling him a minion with no pants from “Despicable Me,” according to “In 2020, Russia’s Memes Went Worldwide.” Others called Putin a character from “Teletubbies.” Some even said his yellow hazmat suit is what he would wear for his 2024 inauguration since the Russian government just extended his presidency, according to the article.  

In the Arab community, Turkish Chef Burak Özdemir became a meme in 2019 for his cooking videos. Chef Özdemir cooks large portions of food and chops foods uniquely with a cheerful smile, according to “Famous Turkish Chef Burak Özdemir has Stopped Smiling; is it the End of the World?” Commentators said he had a “creepy serial killer smile.” Others meme his stuffing since a lot of his cooking videos show him stuffing ducks and turkeys. Commentators joke he even stuffed a baby because of a photo where Özdemir held a large baby. In one video, Chef Özdemir was chopping lettuce but not smiling. Viewers were surprised but that did not stop him from getting made fun of by the internet. Commentators said things like, “he’s just not happy cutting up lettuce as he was with duck.” 

Dawkins’ original definition of meme was not meant to be used the way it is today, according to Britannica’s definition of meme. However, memes are an easy way to relate and communicate with different people. 

“Additionally, memes transcend cultures — while most of the text is in English, the context within the meme is easily understood to everyone who is ‘in the know,’” Professor Kedrick James, who specializes in linguistics and media, said in an article titled, “Why the meme is one of the most important means of modern communication.” “This helps to form a community of diverse, multicultural people who have never met before.” 

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