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When I published my article 2012: The Year the “Meme” Meme Died last Thursday, I was met with some mixed reactions, understandably. Many of my friends and colleagues have a vested interest in the appeal of Internet Memes, Anonymous, Web Culture, etc. 

lol. Chris Menning — you so crazy. Memes didn’t die. Curiosity about the word did.

I remember when a bunch of us were first talking about memes, I would explain a meme to somebody and they’d say, “oh, you mean ‘fads’?”

Interchangeable with ‘fads’ was the phrase ‘that went pop’. These words aren’t in as widespread circulation anymore but their core features remain…

Kenyatta Cheese

So I concede, maybe my headline was a little hyperbolic. I’ll admit to having picked up some bad habits regarding headlines. “Died” is a bit strong, but I stand by my assertion that search interest for Internet Memes has reached a plateau while signs of growth have ceased, and I think it’s likely that this is tied to the diminished search interest in Anonymous. (Fig 1.)

Furthermore, Internet memes of a certain style, namely Rage Comics and those memes closely associated seem to be suffering from a decreased volume of search interest beginning in late February. (Fig 2, 3, & 4.)

Also, that’s not to say that memes as a whole have ceased to capture people’s interest. Each meme has it’s own lifecycle (Fig 5 & 6) independent of the larger conversation about memetics as an argumentative framework.

I fully agree with everything Kenyatta said about how Internet culture has gone mainstream, and how this mirrors the progression of any subculture “going pop.” You begin with the thing that we knew when it was underground. As it grows in popularity it morphs into something different that still more-or-less goes by the same name. At that point, adherents to the early standards claim that the thing is “dead.”

“Techno”, as we knew it in the late 80’s-early 90’s is dead. Meanwhile, dubstep and electro house rule the music charts.

- Kenyatta Cheese

My partner Whitney Phillips expressed a similar sentiment about Trolling a few months back.

the thing about trolls is, they’re a moving target… At the time, the plan had always been to talk about trolls–particularly little-a Anonymous on 4chan– in the present tense. But more and more I found myself speaking about their exploits in the past tense. It wasn’t until Christmas of 2011 that I realized… that this dissertation is about a subcultural LIFE CYCLE, which is a very different sort of project and immediately necessitated all kinds of theoretical retrofittings.

- Whitney Phillips

And it’s true. There was a day in December when Whitney and I were walking in Soho, realizing that Anonymous, trolling, memes, this whole amorphous Web Culture thing as we knew it was never going to be what it once was. Change was happening all around us, and 2008 was growing smaller and smaller on the horizon behind us.

Later, at ROFLcon, many people expressed similar sentiments. My friends Mike, Patrick, and Steven of Meme Factory expressed that “Nothing is funny anymore” and asked if the Internet as a whole is stuck in a kind of Eternal September.

Similarly, Stephen Suen, an undergrad at MIT’s Berkman Center wrote:

Amidst these themes running throughout the conference, however, I noticed none more strongly than the collective sinking feeling that the Internet has jumped the shark… Despite the great victories (epic wins, rather) of the Internet and its vast potential to effect change and mobilize people, it is — like everything else that humankind has ever loved — being eaten up by commercial interests. That’s why ROFLCon needs to die. With the way we are now, we can only shrug as Keyboard Cat plays it off. We can only hope that the convention will return one day — as something better — to save the Internet from itself.

Soon after, Gawker’s Adrian Chen wrote:

While traffic numbers show plenty of people are still attracted to the morbid parade of curiosities 4chan still hosts, 4chan is now boring to the rest of the internet.

Granted, 4chan’s traffic continues to grow, the media still reports on Anonymous every week or so, and people continue to google the word “meme” at levels nearly identical to what they did a year ago. But the cultural fiber that connected each of those concepts has basically been decontextualized by the mainstreaming process. I’m not going to qualify whether this is a positive or a negative thing. I’m just stating that it’s a reality that anyone with a vested interest in this stuff ought to be aware of.

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