Memes for culture-loving millennials

Published on 4 December 2018

Xavier Toh

The dog in the house on fire is not fine. But on social media, this meme is doing better than well – it has been shared thousands of times and inspired various iterations.

The popularity of the meme stems from the cynicism that the image conveys, which resonates with millennials plagued by a sense of nihilism.

The generation reaching adulthood at the turn of this century live in a world of widening income gaps, drastic climate changes and divisive politics; the better future they were promised growing up nowhere in sight. From this sense of nihilism, the visual culture of memes takes flight.

Millennials borrow pop culture images, including from comics and movies, and layer onto these forms of art pithy observations on a range of issues, from the social to political. The result: readily shareable memes that tap into universal fears, allowing anyone with Internet access to join the conversation, and through misery, find company. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a meme finds its worth in a thousand conversations.

Had a rude awakening about your “no plastic straw” bid to save the environment? There is a meme for that. Or, feeling aggrieved about issues in your community, but trapped between taking real action and complaining on the Internet? There is a meme for that too.

Memes for millennials buffeted by nihilism, however, are not just a crutch for the generation to cope with the overwhelming challenges of the times. To some, they are a double-edged sword – the lean meme fighting machine that goes a long way in raising awareness and provoking actual action.

The trending meme of 2016, for example, was borne of the killing of a Western lowland gorilla, Harambe, at the Cincinnati Zoo. The gorilla had dragged a three-year-old boy around the enclosure after the child climbed in, so a zoo worker, fearing for the boy’s safety, shot the gorilla fatally.

The incident was recorded on video and the zoo’s decision to kill Harambe made international news. The outpouring of grief over the dead animal quickly led to a flood of memes that appropriated the name and image of Harambe.

The internet frenzy, however, also translated into real change. A year on, the zoo created a new indoor habitat where the public can view the gorillas from behind safety glass.

Clearly, millennials and the new language of arts which they are creating through memes should not be underestimated. So, from one millennial to the world, here’s a meme for the season. Merry Christmas!

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