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7 Reasons Memes Are Not Only Making Us Dumber, But Also Terrible Human Beings

It's about to get real, y'all. (Content Warning: murder/blood/pedophilia)

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1. They are superficial.


Memes have become the way people understand cultural evolution. The rapidly spread ideas throughout the Internet have become symbols of our generation in terms of our beliefs, political views, humour, and values. They are understood as representing the dominant ideologies today.

The problem with this is that memes are a very superficial way of understanding the evolution of culture. The origin of memes dates back to 1976, when Richard Dawkins wrote about the spread of cultural entities – he dubbed “memes” – and the similarities they bear with biological evolution. Dawkins compares the transmission of genes to the rapid spread of ideas among people.

However, according to Peter Thagard in his article "Why Memes Are a Bad Idea" (2013), this comparison fails to note the differences in these transmissions. It completely overlooks the range of mental representations that go into cultural evolution as well as the social factors that help develop the ideologies. The spread of ideas is incredibly complex and cannot be explained simply through memes.

2. They normalize violence.


Remember the Nevada-Tan meme? If not, let me refresh your memory. In 2003, an 11-year-old girl murdered her 12-year-old classmate and showed up to class afterwards with a blood-soaked sweater.

The picture of the girl went viral and was transformed into memes across the globe. Although the memes were not necessarily humorous they were depicted in light-hearted frameworks through mediums such as anime and cosplay. In the 2007 works by Knobel and Lankshear, the authors point out that memes like this thrive due to their juxtaposition, an ordinary schoolgirl committing a gruesome murder and not even trying to hide it becomes a sort of “shock humour” that people are attracted to.

By spreading these images and circulating the Nevada-Tan meme, people overlook the brutality of the murder and violence that was committed as it becomes a cultural icon as opposed to a tragic event.

3. They are biased.


Memes spread ideas that come from very specific and narrow view points. They present these ideas from a certain perspective without allowing room for different opinions or debate. The rapid nature of memes encourages people to share and post from the same place of thinking.

As a result, people are exposed to biased ideas on the Internet every single day. Simply by scrolling on Facebook for five minutes, we are absorbing biased information and tailoring our thinking to what we see as the dominant ideology. You might be thinking this doesn’t apply to you because you are your own person with your own opinions and feelings, but it’s much larger than that. We’ll get to that later.

4. They target women.

The Internet has a history of targeting and harassing women (Gamergate anyone?) but memes can do this in a much more subtle way. Classic memes such as “Overly Attached Girlfriend” mock women using stereotypes that are no longer taken seriously .

While these memes are so over-the-top that they seem harmless, the circulation of these women’s images only strengthen negative connotations of females including clinginess, weakness, or “craziness” as pointed out in Jasmine Garsd's article "Internet Memes and The Right to Be Forgotten" (2015).

The meanings have come full circle from being offensive, to being ridiculous to going right back to being harmful as these memes are absorbed and thought of as having somewhat of a truth value. Because, if it’s popular on the Internet, it must be at least a little true, right?

5. They desensitized us.


As previously mentioned, memes can change our way of thinking when we are exposed to them either in certain frameworks or often enough. An old meme that comes to mind is Pedobear. Remember him? The teddy bear mascot for pedophilia? The image of this bear was originally used as a warning for illegal child pornography but quickly began circulating as a humorous meme in the late 2000’s.

It has been argued that the meme mocks pedophiles by dehumanizing them and therefore is not as offensive as one might think. However, John Lee in his article "Internet Memes: A Theory of Popularity" (2009) points out that making light of child sexual assault is a clear example of the way Internet memes desensitize avid users . For many young adults, Pedobear was popular when they were young, maybe between the ages of 10 and 14, a time when they were still developing and learning. Isn’t it scary to think that you may have once found the idea of pedophilia humorous?

6. And still do now.


Pedobear isn’t the only time memes have desensitized users to real issues, this still happens today. The recent memes about Harambe the Gorilla have flooded the Internet for months, completely undermining the original reason Harambe become famous after being shot at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Originally, the memes were created as a way of mocking those who were taking the gorilla’s death extremely seriously. Within days, the meme was everywhere. While some can argue that they are harmless jokes, they once again showcase desensitization to important issues. Animal cruelty and death is made light of in the name of humour on the Internet.

7. They lead to The Global Brain.


Due to the global network of memes, the end result is more than likely a globally shared ideology aka The Global Brain.

In Francis Heylighen's "Evolution of Memes on the Network" this concept refers to a “world culture” that develops due to the rapid and ever-evolving spread of memes. The idea is that we will eventually not have our own original thoughts, feelings, or opinions. Just one collective mind.

...Brb, gonna delete every meme I’ve ever shared.

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