You know those funny images your friends are sharing on Facebook and Instagram, that everybody is re-pinning on Pinterest, the ones circulating around Reddit and Tumblr and Imagur… What do you call those?
The common and most simple answer is probably a “meme.” But did you know that what you’re looking at is actually an image macro? Now, I’m not saying that it’s not also a meme, because an image macro can certainly be a meme, but “meme” refers to the concept, and not the physical photo with a catchy quote over it that you are seeing. A meme can actually be any medium. Text, audio, video, really anything that can spread virally across the Internet, therefore inserting itself into pop culture or even transcending across multimedia platforms like television or music. The criteria being that they are generally funny, and they must be viral, spreading from one user to the next and compelling people to put their own unique spin on it via parody, remix or complete recreation. Take this image for example:
What you’re actually looking at is an image macro. However the concept of the “most interesting man in the world” speaking about what he doesn’t always do- and leaving it open for users to switch out with something they may find humorous or clever- that is a meme. The base image is familiar, but the caption can be customized to your liking.
The “Harlem Shake” is an example of a video meme. Everyone from the Victoria’s Secret supermodels, to the Miami Heat showed the world their version of dressing up in the wildest costumes available and dancing as outrageously as possible to the song. Work places everywhere were scheduling a piece of their day to making a video to show the world just how fun and goofy they could be. Thousands of these videos were being uploaded. And people were watching. And talking. And sharing with their friends. These videos went viral, and a meme was born.
So, the next time you’re trying to find a word to call the post your friend left on your timeline, or Googling the perfect image to leave in response to a friend’s post- remember that unless the concept is viral, it’s an image macro, not a meme.