Memes have existed for over a decade, but they turned into a lifestyle for bored millennials (such as myself) after the advent of social media. They have become a form of (sometimes) wordless communication, a mean of self-expression and, most important, a new style of humor that was proper to the internet. That's if you don't count dancing baby, of course.
Everybody makes and shares memes nowadays and no one has any idea why. It just feels good to express whatever we need to say with a single image and a couple lines of text. What's up with that? I sincerely believe that memes (good ones) are a smart and healthy exercise. And my justification is rooted in contemporary philosophy. Want to hear it? Of course not, but here it is anyway!
I believe that memes are perhaps the purest form of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction.
What is deconstruction?
Long story short: it's a method for reading texts. And by texts I mean texts of any kind: literary, philosophical, legal, social (lets say, a Calvin Klein ad) or cultural (for example, a screenshot from a film). Any collage of ideas. Deconstruction first identifies the dominant meaning in a text (you look hot in these jeans), then identifies the meaning deliberately marginalized by the text (these jeans are $200 and look better on girls under 110 lbs) and from there, start identifying every possible meaning in a text( you look gay in these jeans, there are holes in these jeans, etc.)
What was the point? Derrida pioneered a method of reading texts where the audience was not prisoner of its intended meaning or domineering ideas, therefore unlocking a new way of understanding things. For centuries, people understood everything through religion because it was the single source of truth. Science, philosophy and many other walked in the portrait and claimed they were the truth, thus offering different interpretation of the same things. A Church is the house of God for religions, but it's a stone building for science and it's an obsolete institution for philosopher, see what I mean?
OK, but how does it apply to memes? Glad you asked.
1. Take a text's original, intended meaning: blowing the horn of Gondor is for extremely important stuff only.
2. Flip it on its head: Boromir has a giant penis and he's pretty proud of it.
3. Keep going: Boromir's hand gesture defines Boromir, so what it means is bound to change depending on what's currently going on.
I mean, who even remembers what Boromir was trying to say in that scene? Everybody remembers it because of the meme. The Boromir meme has hijacked the original meaning of the Fellowship of the Ring scene. This is what memes do and this is why they're more important than ever now that everything and everyone can be memed: they decontextualize and often dedramatize images that are imposed to you by media. They're a natural reaction to the information age:
This is why memes have spread like wildfires on social media. They're a way to reinterpret the world through one's own individuality that strips it of its self-seriousness. Memes are a democratic and empowering form of satire. Everybody can make them, share them and they're a pretty clear statement from audiences: don't bullshit us or you'll become the next great internet meme.
Internet memes are, in a vacuum, a tool to deconstruct meaning. Media shower audiences every day with statement and images and meme generators have emerged from this 24/7 news cycle frenzy as a natural defense mechanism against this one-way communication. Memeing reappropriates the meaning of current events and empowers the audiences to remember it the way it wants. That's why they're important and we have Jacques Derrida to thank for that.
Does this make any sense?