Our ability to create, react to and preserve the culture we’re creating through the internet is a blessing and sometimes a curse. I mean having to bypass trolls (whether they be racist or just ignorant) can get annoying, Seeing your family and friends share political posts that are always too long and bias can get draining and don’t get me started on the net neutrality ban, why can’t middle to lower class people have nice things? But that’s another post and in this moment I want to focus on the good that the internet can give us.
Saying the history of memes is vast would be an understatement. Like most valuable tools we use everyday without even acknowledging how far their history goes, the first meme ever came from a comic strip from the University of Iowa’s satirical magazine The Judge in 1921. BBC cites Richard Dawkins as the originator of the word ‘meme’, coining the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins called memes “ideas that spread from brain to brain,” and with a quick Google search we can see the full definition of the word:
An idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.
The concept of memes have definitely evolved since the 1920s. Instead of showing a funny picture to your friend with a newspaper; memes, gifs or the latest viral video can be sent pretty much anywhere in the world within a couple seconds. The internet has brought us and our respective cultures together and with the latest iterations of social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) it’s hard to keep up with all the viral references that quickly trend and fade away after a week (The #inmyfeelings challenge ruined Drake’s insecure bop, don’t @ me). One thing that continues to outlast any fad is the power and influence Black culture has had specifically on American pop culture.
Shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Living Single (Fun Fact: Living Single was the model NBC used to create Friends) were the initial bursts of successful black television in the humble beginnings of the internet age and these shows set the blueprint for what we deem relevant in pop culture. From the fashion, music and the comedy stylings that came from that era, the influence can be seen in the way we dress, the content we consume and what we consider to be dope. If Martin Lawrence comically yelling “Damn Gina!” in an argument on a random episode of Martin was a fleeting moment, the memes that came from that moment would be the picture you take with your disposable Kodak camera to save that hilarious memory forever. As black entertainers, entrepreneurs and public figures become more prevalent in the mainstream world, their influence will continue to grow with them. The first time I really noticed a black meme existing beyond the black community was when the infamous Tiffany “New York” Pollard’s appearance on the now iconic VH1 reality shows Flavor of Love and I Love New York became permanent fixtures on social media. Quotes like “BEYONCE? You f**king look like Luther Vandross,” and “Good morning, good morning, Good morning, You can choke,” has been cemented in pop culture and the gifs and memes that came from that early 2000s moment has brought new life to Pollard’s career and the meaning behind her priceless expressions. Whether it’s a meme that came from a reality show or big moment from your favorite multi-talented mogul (Oprah, Beyonce, Rihanna and Kanye West are just a few examples) memes highlight moments worthy of being immortalized on the internet and showcase the influence people of color have on pop culture.
As soon as a meme-worthy moment hits the internet, you can bet on someone creating a shareable meme that will become a part of the social media language for days, months and even years. When the blockbuster film Black Panther came out earlier this year, Twitter and Instagram pages were filled with #WakandaForever posts and the memes to match the parts of the film that deserved a comedic makeover. Black centered content have become essential to the online experience because the gatekeepers and companies that try to be the pulse for what’s trendy have finally realized that people of color like to see themselves in the media and when you offer different role models to represent the black community, people will consume that content and bring their own observations to the table (and more importantly for those companies, make them a lot of money). It’s the reason why Hip Hop has become the Rock & Roll of this generation. Or why black faces that get the chance to work within television, film and music eventually become household names that can give a project instant clout off their personality alone (Tiffany Haddish is the biggest example of that with the rise of her career this past year). Solange eloquently said on her black anthem “F.U.B.U.” off her empowering album A Seat At The Table, “This shit is for us, some shit you can touch.”
While the rise of black representation is great and will hopefully lead the wave for other marginalized groups to be celebrated on and off the screen, we can’t overlook how gentrification can impact the black culture when it becomes mainstream. Memes can earn some people thousands of likes and millions of followers but companies and culture vultures tend to profit off culture they didn’t create and most likely don’t resonate with. It’s easy to think of memes as a light, fun distraction from the draining real world but they’re also bookmarks and timestamps of the society around us. The content that derives from Black Twitter and black centered sources should be properly credited and monetized if the creator can make that possible. Black people are more than the stereotypes and caricatures they’re often defined to be for the entertainment of others. So if you’re an outsider follow the common culture protocol and appreciate the work without feeling the need to water it down to make it palatable to the masses. You’ll end up getting lost in the sauce trying to make a quick buck from the juice and as a viral Best Buy employee explained in 2017, the sauce, the sauce is forever…
Article By: Marcel Jeremiah