How Internet Memes Burst Into Our ‘Real Life’

You have probably seen the face of this little girl with a mischievous smile on your favorite social networks or sites. A few weeks ago, we learned of the death of a young American, whose face had become a world famous meme (a diverted image that has become very viral, editor’s note). We then discovered his name, Kailia Posey, an age, 16, and a journey. The image that we shared via our social networks suddenly burst into our reality. And the disappearance of this cult face on the web has moved the other side of the screen.

Not necessarily something to surprise François Jost, professor emeritus at the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, media specialist and author of “Are you memes? From parody to the digital pandemic” (CNRS Editions). “Memes unite a community. You can practically share your grief, he deciphers. This has already been the case with Grumpy cat: the death of the cat, star of the web, had caused a stir “.

Grumpy Cat had become a web star.
Grumpy Cat had become a web star.

Proof of this virtual barrier that is beginning to fall, memes have found a place in shops, in the board game department. Now between Monopoly and Uno, games offer you to find the funniest legend to associate with a viral image on the Net. “It’s a good learning experience to know how to make memes,” smiles François Jost, who also tried his hand at the exercise. It’s not so surprising: the memes are based on an earlier image and divert it by adding an interpretation to it. It’s parody and that’s as old as the world! Each era has invented its way of diverting images. It is this mockery that amuses us. The difference that memes bring is the collaborative aspect: you can add as many as you want. »

The meme as a work of art

Memes have also made a remarkable entrance… in the world of art. Artists are inspired by them, like the American PaperPaul who enjoys reproducing them in paper version on relief pop-up cards. Above all, memes are now sold at exorbitant prices at auction.

That of the grumbling pout of Grumpy cat (him again) was sold for 80,000 dollars; more recently, that of the “Disaster girl” – showing a little girl with a mischievous smile in front of a burning house – more than… 495,000 dollars in NFT (non-fungible tokens)! The young man known worldwide under the name of the meme “Bad luck Brian” also sold his meme, now developed by brands in derivative products.

These images, born on the Internet and sometimes mysterious in origin, become real works. “The status of memes has changed. Initially, they were without avowed author, shown. Today, they are more and more claimed. It will therefore be more and more question of their author. It’s the way things work. This will become institutionalized, it is a very general movement in culture, ”confirms the professor from the Sorbonne, citing as an example the graffiti artists for whom the municipalities reserve dedicated walls, even if it means moving away from his spontaneous and protesting nature. graffiti.

With its bridge into the IRL world (in real life), will the meme lose its primary meaning? “For art as for board games, we are on the spirit of the meme but not really on a meme, answers François Jost. At least, if you consider that a meme is an image that circulates on the Internet… it’s a question of definition. »

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How Internet Memes Burst Into Our ‘Real Life’

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