How dangerous can memes get once they “blow up” online?
The recent viral dance craze The Harlem Shake has captivated the hearts and limbs of UCL and incompetent would-be booty shakers across the globe. It’s not hard to see why – its infectious idiocy and open invitation to participation encourages that warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging in us all. Awwwwwww.
What we often seem to forget, however, as we feed on the scraps of the notorious 4chan, is that today’s meme culture has two sides. The initial fun of creating and sharing hilarious in-jokes (often centered around pop culture or current events) with friends can often develop a darker side once the joke specifically mocks vulnerable individuals.
Admittedly, these sorts of people don’t help themselves. Some of the shit they pull is hysterically funny, and naturally their rants and raves are insta-shared with keyboard-pounding glee by a large proportion of internet users, fuelled by a heady mix of the desire for cheap laughs and a comparative self-esteem boost.
Two famous examples of individuals affected by the consequences of their actions going viral are self-professed “ginger and proud” Youtube user CopperCab, and pint-sized scene kid “brain slushie” enthusiast Jessi Slaughter. Both just kids at the time, they uploaded controversial videos that provided delicious fodder for the great Internet Hate Machine – and brought them mass humiliation, thousands of death threats and even invasions of their real-life privacy.
Whilst these are obviously extreme cases of memes going viral, their massive popularity does point out our apparent and worrying obsession with using today’s technology to satisfy our voyeuristic tastes for other people’s humiliation and even pain – a subject currently being explored in Charlie Brooker’s drama series Black Mirror.
Meme culture certainly runs a high risk of defining our generation – but as what exactly? Will our Vitamin-D deficient, prankster internet-phile selves be immortalised as the cutting edge satirists, stand-up sit-behind-a-computer-screen comics and virtual philanthropists of our age? Or will we forever be known as the generation who bullied and humiliated immature children into committing suicide (known as “an hero” by some on the Internet), whilst our juvenile memes make killing oneself into our own sick in-joke?
Judging by how both maliciously harmful and inspiringly people-uniting memes have “blown up” nearly equally over time, our historical reputation could swing either way. Let’s just hope it’s the positive, productive way.