Stories - Entertainment

The Meme Genesis: Did you know that the first meme was born in 79?

By Monica Camozzi
6 min read

The secrets of the memes go back to their origin… 

…To a website called 4 chan, now considered the dark corner of the Internet. But to be fair, the first one to use the word meme was the biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976. The memes are a dominant use of communication nowadays because their irony and playfulness make them more immediate in expressing the truth. And there are wonderful apps to make them just the way you like. The birth of the meme starts with psychology and goes on to marketing!  

Who was the first one to talk about memes? 

In his book The Selfish Gene, biologist Richard Dawkins defines the meme as a piece of information, a behavior that, just like a gene, spreads from one individual to another. Thus, we inherit “a meme” from our parents and mix it with the information we receive from the world, mutating it and adapting it to a new context.

The word meme could not be more appropriate for the new visual vocabulary in humorous style: it is something that we pass from person to person as we interact with the world and its evolution.  

The genesis of the meme and 4 chan 

In 2003 a 15-year-old student, Christopher Poole, created 4 chan, where chan stands for “channel.” His idea was to create a website where users could talk about Japanese cartoons in total anonymity. Users registered as “anonymous” had only an identification number to differentiate themselves and didn’t let anything of their identity to be revealed.

Besides, during registration on the website, it didn’t require personal data or information, and all the conversations disappeared after a few days. For this reason, 4 chan turned into a dark corner of racism, violence, and vulgarity: it was used to talk about criminal plans, to provoke hatred, and it was used by possible killers to suggest the places of probable murders. However, 4 chan is also the place where the memes were born, along with Reddit. For instance, the first images of the Lolcats, the cats subtitled by funny and paradoxical phrases, were taken from here. 

The memes become social and marketing vocabulary in 2014 

In 2014, memes started to become an independent mass language, no longer being simple reposts of 4chan. They evolved into different models of communication in terms of styles, sectors, and historical periods. There is always a cultural starting point on which the variable of paradox that changes from time to time is based. Ceres has been one of the most willing companies to use memes to amplify the marketing campaigns.

They inserted the memes in posts on their Facebook page, personalizing and adapting them to the campaigns in progress. They even organized a memevale in 2016, a series of events where guests were dressed up as memes and posted on the page with a matching sentence.  Another amazing campaign was General Electric’s memes. They used Thomas Edison sitting in front of a transmitter instead of Ryan Gosling from the “Hey girl” meme, and they adapted it modern times: “Hey, do we happen to share electrons? Because I feel a covalent bond between us.” Also, Intel has used memes into their communication strategy, adapting the famous Gangnam Style, a true Korean rap catchphrase. 

After the genesis, the consecration: from Netflix to Gucci!  

Last year Netflix wanted to boost the promotion of the movie Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, a horror film with a famous scene in which Bullock appeared blindfolded. So they orchestrated an avalanche of memes with Bullock’s blindfolded face that created a tremendous social media buzz. It generated 45 million views for a single meme! The popularity of the scene also has sparked the Bird Box Challenge. A viral trend in which everyone created a meme of themselves or their personal situations with their eyes blindfolded.  

The genesis of the meme as a mass communication phenomenon could not exclude world-class brands. Even Gucci, with its forward-thinking approach to communication, was one of the first brands to undermine luxury with the sheer power of the meme. A hilarious one is the meme featuring a hole torn in the wrist of a suit to let the watch to be seen at all costs, which mocks the show-offs. Or the one with a hand that caresses the statue with the saying: “When you wake up late for work and realize you’re actually a clay head.”  

Archetypes are also part of the genesis of the meme 

Do you know that Baby George despises you? The ironic archetype of the contrast between rich and poor that plays with the child of a reigning dynasty and populism became a world phenomenon, just like the stories conceived with the expressive medium of memes like the old photo novels. Another archetype example is the frown of the Grumpy Cat, featuring the cat Teodor Sauce that suffers from a malformation for which its face always seemed very angry. The slightly depressed green dinosaur represents perplexity; Kermit, the frog – the indifference; Gene Wilder with his crazy and slightly paranoid expression is destined to those who ask embarrassing questions.

Incredibly, the most expressive subject is without doubt Lionel Messi, a footballer often caught with questioning facial expressions. In short, nowadays, becoming an object of a meme and unleashing the hilarity of the whole planet is a risk that celebrities must take! Lately, the memes have materialized through videos to give messages that sometimes are disruptive and harsh: the Colombian police have sensitized the population to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak, using a famous video meme that was circulating on the Internet for some time now. It has gone viral on the Internet, and it represents coffin bearers from Ghana that organize dancing funerals. The Ghanaian “dancing” gravediggers had become the object of macabre memes all over the Internet. 

The power of meme generators  

Any one of us can have fun with memes. How? By downloading a meme generator on your computer or a free app from Google meme generator. You can even develop your software. 

For Android, one of the easiest apps is Meme creator, which provides 600 images, 20 different fonts, and the ability to import photos from your gallery. Another app simple to use is Mematic, a free app available for both Android and Ios devices that allows creating your own meme using photos from the Internet or your gallery. You can do it in four steps: choose the image to use as the base of the meme, choose the style, add the desired text, and save or share the final image. For those who have iPhones or iPad, there is a fantastic meme generator by Meme Crunch.  

Other useful apps are Meme Droid Pro, Simple Meme Creator, Meme Producer. Here are the web sites where you can find them:  


There are no memes on digital nomads: but what if the genesis started here? 

On every subject, catchphrase, popular element, there is a meme, even on travelers. Here’s a challenge for you: make a meme about digital nomads! And we’re waiting to see all of your creations here! 

Written by
Monica Camozzi
Journalist since 25 years, copywriter, storyteller, passionate of made in Italy, business adventures and new challenges.
19K views 6 min read

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