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“Memes” are cheap, lazy excuses for humor

Memes are cheap, lazy excuses for humor

In the unlikely case you’ve never encountered “memes” and don’t know what they are: good. Get out now. Your sense of humor will thank you for it. If, however, you’re like most people and have some base familiarity with memes, like memes or, heaven forbid, create memes, then read on.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, allow me to define what I mean by “memes” for clarity’s sake. A meme, in the non-sociological sense, is a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users. However, I’ll be honing in my critique on a very particular sort of meme: the kind that jumps to mind when you think “meme.” You know the type: The re-used pictures with text in impact font making jokes in a systematized format, pictured below:


Memes are easy, sloppy shorthand for humor, and they’re so overused that in most cases they’re more likely to induce a cringe than a chuckle.

The core reason this is the case is that memes, by their very nature, are unoriginal and derivative. There’s no requirement to be creative or inventive, you just need some low wit. Delivery isn’t something that bears any deliberation when “creating” memes, because the delivery is predetermined. Just use the template meme’s standard wording, split the text to be on the top and bottom of the image and, Bam! You’ve got yourself a meme. Why bother crafting context and background for a joke when you can just slap a Good Guy Greg stamp on it? Memes are the laziest ways to express jokes, and they get old fast as a result.

The reason memes get old so quickly with extended exposure is the same reason that “Yo mamma” jokes aren’t funny anymore. “Yo mamma” jokes and memes are templates for jokes, and joke templates are like mine shafts. You strike a vein of humor, establish a template around it and mine out all the humor you can until eventually the mine is empty. “Yo momma’s so fat she has her own orbit!” Heard it, what else do you have? “Yo mamma’s so ugly she made an onion cry!” Etc. But the reason that “Yo mamma” jokes are effectively dead while memes live on is that “Yo mamma” is but one template. There’s a cornucopia of memes for the lazy humorist to choose from, and if one runs dry of its humor there are more to replace it.

Part of the issue is that now instead of people making jokes and cracking wise in moderation, we’re constantly inundated with these boilerplate pieces of humor. The internet can be used as an always-on channel for entertainment and jokes, and as a result you can get your jollies from a brand new source! This is a wonderful thing, because it’s created opportunities for heaps of new content to be produced and consumed. But for every quality piece of humor, there are thousands more derivative bite-sized memes that receive an equal amount of attention.

This attention-getting quality of memes is perhaps their most toxic attribute. People synthesize their memes on or (the idea that jokes can be “generated” through some kind of calculation is disgusting in its own right) and post them on Reddit or Facebook, and are then rewarded with quantitative pats on the back in the forms of “upvotes” and “likes.”

This attention-seeking memery being so popular, an entire generation of kids is growing up under the implicit premise that jokes and humor are about “me.” It’s not about spreading joy or making people laugh, it’s about me getting some kind of numerical social credibility and recognition for being so witty.

There’s nothing wrong with crafting humor and jokes under existing frameworks, but this kind of unabashedly templatized humor is nothing to celebrate. So if you do make memes or participate in meme communities like /r/AdviceAnimals on Reddit,,, iFunny, or even like and share memes on Facebook, I implore you: please stop. Stop the bleeding. Either focus your efforts somewhere more productive or, if you want to keep consuming and creating humor, up your game! Make funny pictures of your own, make some YouTube videos, write a funny sketch or even try your hand at stand-up comedy! But please quit pumping out and supporting cookie-cutter jokes; we have enough identically shaped, stale cookies to both end world hunger and to throw a feast to celebrate.

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“Memes” are cheap, lazy excuses for humor