The greatest trick the internet played on itself was thinking it was subversive and unruly. But your average 4Chan post has all the forged renegade edge of bathroom graffiti in Tom Morello’s studio mansion. Take the most popular symbol of online rebellion: the Guy Fawkes mask.
Quick tip to any revolutionaries out there: If a side effect of your anti-establishment movement is that Warner Brothers makes a cool $600,000 in merchandise sales … you might want to rethink your approach. Because that’s absolutely what happened in 2011 when over 100,000 of these masks were being sold annually.
And this is just the tip of the jagged and ironic iceberg. Remember that Trollface meme? The one that was originally created to make fun of trolls? Well the guy behind that actually copyrighted it – and has since made an equally cool $100,000 in licensing fees and settlements. For as they are inorganic, unoriginal, and attention-desperate, memes are also extremely corporate. And to further expose that irony-berg, the swell of legal interest has to do with how lawlessly they were first conceived. You see… it turns out that you can’t just use an image you don’t own without there being some kind of judicial consequence. Especially when it’s of a person. Star Wars Kid, Scumbag Stacy, Good Girl Gina – these have all resulted in takedown requests, lawsuits, and ruined lives. Not to mention all the memes that originated from TV and movies.
To recap: Memes were created by a “free” internet using stolen pictures, those images became the subject of copyright and harassment lawsuits, and as a result the meme world became more corporately owned and mainstream. This led to the final nail in the coffin – for where there is money and sweet youth blood, there are inevitably politicians…