Have you ever encountered an internet meme like Success Kid, above? Memes like these are spreading across the interwebs, fueled by websites where you can make variations of them in seconds.
If you come across many variants of the same meme, you can start to tease out some of the social rules that have evolved to govern their creation. Success Kid, for example, is usually used to celebrate the mudane successes in life.
You can view many, many more examples at quickmeme.com, memegenerator.net, any of the other ubiquitous meme generating websites, or on a Google image search. Before you click on these links, you should know that some of the content way contain profanity or otherwise be NSFW (not safe for work.)
So, you can get a read on popular memes, and even contribute to them by creating your own. But, do you know that Success Kid is based on a picture of a boy named Sammy that was uploaded to Flickr in 2007? No? Maybe you don’t really know your meme after all. That’s where KnowYourMeme.com can help.
Taking Success Kid as an example again, Know Your Meme traces the origin of the meme through several twists and turns (as I Hate Sandcastles, for example) before arriving at what we now know as Success Kid. This website is usually where I start when I first notice a new meme flashing across my screens. (And, when you Google any meme, the link to KnowYourMeme is typically right near the top of the results.)
Another, more current example is the Harlem Shake, which is hard to avoid on Facebook and other social media as your alma mater, favorite sports teams, and other random groups of people each create their own version.
How can this website be useful to ESL students? Given the pace at which these memes evolve, learning about their background and meaning could help non-native students better understand and interact with their peers who use memes and reaction GIFs as conversational shorthand in social media.
A teacher could also have her students put their anthropologist hats on and track the meaning and development of their own favorite memes. They could then compare their conclusions to the “expert” information in KnowYourMeme to see how much they were able to deduce on their own.
Either way, this website is an excellent resource that provides students and teachers with well documented information on emerging trends in popular culture.