A meme is a unit of cultural information that spreads from person to person by means of imitation. It's an inside joke that needs no explaining. It's just understood.
When we think of a meme, we often think of a picture with words overlaid for the purpose of making a point. When she's at the club (picture 1). When I'm at the club (picture 2). Etc. This format of communication is actually called an image macro, not a meme. But image macros can be memes. If you see a picture used over and over but with differing written content, this image is now a meme because you understand the implied subtext.
One could argue that a person making the peace sign or putting their fists up could be memes, as they provide context that is understood without explanation. One could also argue that language develops by these means, eventually making that which is mimicked into something worth recording, teaching, and adding to the official tomes of written language. When used as a spice rack for idea transmission via the internet, memes can add subtext that written words may sometimes miss-- especially in internet shorthand. When we speak in real life our gestures & expressions help us transmit this data, but much of this can be lost when writing concisely. Like right now.
In the same way that the font used to display a message can impact the digestion of that message, the content of a meme can influence the way we put this information together in our heads. A meme using a picture of a cat might hit cat people differently than dog people. A meme featuring a human may impact those who do or don't identify with that human differently, and a meme containing bugs, ice cream, or something as innocuous as a chair will land differently across almost any population of people. Some people prefer couches to chairs, think bugs are cute, and are lactose intolerant.
Humans think something about almost everything. We see a person and we filter them through whatever role they could potentially play our lives. We see an office building and we remember all the things we did or didn't like about office buildings and interactions within. We see an animal and we sort it into the box we associate with that animal. Horse = ride. Dog = play. So on and so forth. Every meme has subtext, just like every font has character.
Except Helvetica. Helvetica was made to convey messages with no additional information except the words being displayed. Examples of Helvetica range from the NYC subway signs to the American Apparel and North Face logos. Is there a meme equivalent for this un-biased transmission of a thought? I'd argue yes: Pepe.
Pepe is one of the most pervasive internet memes, despite the varied and polarized manners of use. Since 2005, Matt Furie's original character has been morphed and mangled and used and abused, only to have come out perfectly clean despite the many stains attempted. How is this possible? I believe it's because Pepe is a frog. And a cartoon frog, at that. Most people have opinions and urges about most things, but frogs seem to be just about the only exception to this.
We don't eat frogs regularly. We don't keep frogs as pets. We don't date them, use them for clothing or to make structures. They don't mind being around us, and a vast majority of them aren't harmful to humans in any way. Some of them even qualify as recreational drugs, I guess? My point here is that Pepe seems to be one of the only non-polarizing anthropomorphic platforms for the transmission of digital information from person to person, and this is what makes him the most prolific of all.
You can use Pepe to say whatever you want, but Pepe will shed your views and become a blank slate for the next person to amplify their point. Pepe is us, but Pepe is neutral. Long live Pepe.
Thanks to Bankless DAO for the ongoing support.
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