Memeing Into the Void: The Case That We Have Entered The Last Stage of Internet Culture
Conjecture: Internet culture, specifically meme culture, can be roughly divided into distinct movements associated with time periods, much in the same way that paintings can be categorized into their respective art movements. Here’s my best attempt at doing so:
The Original Meme Era (1993-2009): The foundational period of modern internet culture, the creation of the first internet memes, characterized mostly by sincere attempts at humor: lolcats, fails, rick rolling, rage comics etc.
The Ironic Meme Era (2010-2014): Internet memes become mainstream and accessible by popular media, in response meme elitism and ironic memes are born, characterized by parodies of other memes: dank memes, Dolan, ironic fandoms (Shrek, Bee Movie), montage parodies etc.
The Post-Ironic Meme Era (2015-2016): anti-memes, multiple layers of irony, memes begin to take on depressive and nihilistic overtones, irony and sincerity begin to become blended together and ambiguous: deliberate shitposting, bone hurting juice, bottom text, I have crippling depression etc.
The Last Meme Era (2017- )
Conjecture: There is an upper limit on how meta you can get; there are only so many levels of irony you can stack on top of each other before your conceptual framework implodes on itself. Let’s set aside the fact that Reddit is the Lyme disease of the internet for a moment and take r/Circlejerk as an example. The sub was created to humorously criticize the perceived manner in which greater Reddit had become a masturbatory echo chamber devoid of meaning or purpose. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before r/Circlejerk itself became an echo chamber, except this time with an even bigger superiority complex. Thus r/metaCirclejerk was created to make fun of the people making fun of reddit. Naturally, r/metametaCirclejerk was formed next… but that’s the end of the series; there is no r/metametametaCirclejerk. This would be unnecessary and redundant, because once you get this many layers removed you lose track of who and what you’re responding to. The bottom drops out; r/metametaCirclejerk is much more about playing with the idea of meta-criticism on the Reddit platform rather than a direct mockery of r/metaCirclejerk itself. To put it more simply, I’m positing that once you get to about three layers of irony in any given media, the meaning begins to fall apart and you can go no further. This principle explains why we are currently in the final iteration of internet culture.
What is the Last Meme Era? It is nothing more than the self-cannibalization of the meme. Notice that every meme era is a direct response to the previous era, but there is no and can be no response to the Last Meme Era. The internet is bathing in its own digestive juices. To reject the Last Meme Era is in itself an expression of the movement.
This example is quintessentially representative of the Last Meme Era. Consider how many layers of culture you have to be familiar with to even understand what it means. The John C Miller meme itself exists exclusively as corruptions of other memes and furthermore is an anti-humorous rebuttal to the appropriation of internet memes by a private corporation for profit. The meme this image is based on (bone hurting juice) also exclusively exists as modifications of other memes, and is arguably a neo-dadaist celebration of nonsense. Finally, the original web comic is a morbid parody of a children’s book.
Conjecture: Culture is inseparable from the society that creates it, and this includes internet culture; every new meme created is fundamentally the product of late stage capitalism. As of 2014 less than one out of every four films released isn’t a reboot/remake, sequel/prequel, part of a franchise, or otherwise based on another work of media, and it’s only gotten worse since then. There are no new ideas, only perversions and corruptions of previous ideas; creativity has been crushed out of us in supplication to the profit motive. Society is eating itself. The 8 richest people in the world own more wealth than the bottom 3.7 billion. Quite literally all the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to pay off the world’s debt. Corporations are murdering their own customer base and then bemoaning that there’s no one left to buy their products.
Meme culture is necessarily a reflection of society, and as a society we can’t tell if and when we’re serious anymore. The president of the United States is a reality television star who is incapable of stringing more than one complete sentence together. Is this an extended joke? Does it even matter? The nation has been coopted by fascists who choose to represent themselves with a cartoon frog. We live in a post-truth world now, the public has stopped even pretending to care about reality anymore. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. Mental illness is a societal problem as much as it is a psychological one; everyone has become badly sick so how can we be surprised that despair is now a meme? And what the fuck is vaporwave?
Culture has stagnated. There is nowhere to go from here but revolution or extinction. We are all memeing into the void; this is the Last Meme Era.