What is a Meme?

Learn more about memes and how they are used in pop culture in this free lesson.

What is a meme?

If you use any kind of social media, you've probably come across a meme before. Memes are ideas or concepts that spread from person to person through online sharing. These can be pictures, videos, or even words and phrases.

Memes are used worldwide and are spread virally, meaning they travel quickly from one person to another through online sharing. Because they spread so rapidly and widely, they often become cultural touchstones.

Most of them also allow for variations on a theme, with people taking the picture or video and altering it with different captions or edits. For example, one popular meme is Success Kid, a picture of a child pumping his fist. People caption this picture with various unexpected examples of success, as seen below.

How does something become a meme?

In order for something to be considered a meme, it needs to go viral and be massively shared. Because of this, pictures, videos, or words tend to become memes when they're relatable, humorous, or both. However, there's also a certain amount of luck or chance that determines whether something becomes a meme. Just like certain real-life fads or trends, it can be difficult to predict what will be popular.

It often seems like memes appear out of nowhere, flooding social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. They may seem like they randomly spawned from somewhere out of the blue, but most tend to have some sort of backstory to them.

Image macros

Some of the most common memes are image macros. These are captioned images that are usually comedic in nature. Image macros are so popular that they're what most people think of when they hear the word meme.

A majority of these have a specific joke or theme associated with their background image. For example, one popular meme (shown below) is a picture of Willy Wonka with a caption that's almost always sarcastic or condescending in tone.

When reading or creating memes, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the different types to fully understand the joke or message. As mentioned above, there are websites (such as Know Your Meme) where you can browse through a catalog that explains various memes.

Can I make my own memes?

Making your own memes is surprisingly easy. Instead of having to use photo editing software, you can use a meme generator website like Wuzu instead. With these sites, it's as easy as selecting a template, entering your text, and clicking a Create button. From there, you can either save the image or share the link on social media.