The Image: The Necessary Medium for Memes

Ever since we began studying memes I have been curious about why memes always are in the form of an image. As a class we defined a meme as, “A meme is a word/image composition in a single frame or panel that can be replicated with infinite variables within certain (flexible) rules and parameters. It must be instantly recognizable and can be disseminated electronically.”

But why is the aspect of image essential to our definition of a meme? Why can a meme not just in the form of words, like a quote? What is it about our society and culture, and especially about my generation that makes the image a necessary part of a meme?

I argue that images are essential to the form of a meme because of social media and internet-dependent forms of communication, including texting and email, which make images an incredibly, easily sharable medium for memes. The efficiency and ease with which we desire to send memes through their image medium develops from our society today wanting everything easily accessible and sharable.

My twitter feed is a stream of memes, so I searched through twitter to find different examples of memes and how they use images. I found an interesting account called “Tumblr Memes” (@tumblrantics), which posts images of tumblr posts, making the post itself into a meme. This meme is really different from ones we experimented with in class where you can swap out words or images and make a new one. The variation is in the tumblr post, but the common theme of all of these memes is that they come from posts on tumblr. What is most interesting about this new category of meme, is that the memes are images of words. For example:







Gretchen McCulloch in her blog on doge memes, also mentions a doge meme presented in the form of words, that originally came from the following tumblr post:

McCulloch argues that even in the form of text, with no picture, this is recognizable doge speech. Even though it is only words, it is still a meme.

So now that it has been established that memes can be made out of only words, as in tumblr memes, what is the connection between the words and the medium of the image? Well, the words of the tumblr post, which are the meme, are presented in the form of an image. So, even though the meme is not about a picture, the medium through which it is presented is still an image.

The medium of an image is clearly essential to something becoming a meme, and what makes memes more unique in their ability to go viral is their ability to be the exact same on any social media. For example, on twitter if you are a fan of doge memes, you can follow @DogeTheDog. Still think memes of grumpy cat are adorable? Follow @RealGrumpyCat. A twitter user who is seeking memes on their feed can actively choose who to follow and what memes they want to see. Then, these twitter users can share a funny meme they find on twitter of doge or grumpy cat to their Facebook or Instagram accounts. Because the medium is an image, there is no room for the meme to lose any meaning as it is transferred from different social media accounts. The image also creates the kind of depersonalization and detachment from the post, as Elspeth Reeve argues tumblr urls create. Images are desirable because they can easily be “shared” on Facebook, or “retweeted” on Twitter without the user needing to say anything. The pressure to write something “likable” on social media is eliminated by easily being able to share an image. The convenience and impersonality associated with sharing images across social media networks is what makes the image a necessary medium for the meme.

Hypothetically, if quotes went viral and first started as someone putting the quote as a status on Facebook, then someone would have to copy and paste that quote, or remember it if they wanted to put it on twitter, or email or text it to a friend. If an image is captured of the quote though, similarly to images of tumblr posts, the person can easily post it to twitter, Instagram, or share through email or text. As a matter of fact, in order to insert the doge tumblr meme seen earlier in this post, I screenshotted the post, and in that action made a meme. The nature of our society to have easily accessible and efficient ways of sharing memes is what drives this need for an image. The simplicity with which we want to share memes also explains Apple’s update to the iMessage app which includes being able to send gifs through iMessage. iPhone users can quickly search through memes in the form of gifs (essentially a moving image or very short video) and send one relevant to the conversation.

Most memes are not like the tumblr memes, because most memes do involve pictures. A quick Google Image search of “meme” shows that pictures are obviously abundantly popular in memes. The picture incorporation of a meme is so popular because it becomes relatable. We see images that we can put ourselves in, and imagine that happening to us which is why memes are funny and people enjoy sharing them via social media. For example, we can all relate to this feeling expressed in the dog’s face:

In conclusion, memes must be in the medium of electronic images because images allow for simple sharing across different social media networks, with no requirement of personalization and no room for error. The image, when including a picture in particular, also creates an ability to relate, as we can all relate to the face the dog is making above after making a mistake.

An ~electronic image~ really is worth a thousand words.

Works Cited:

McCulloch, Gretchen. “A Linguist Explains the Grammar of Doge. Wow.” The Toast. 6 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. <>.

Reeve, Elspeth. “The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens.” New Republic. 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. <>.

2 Comments on “The Image: The Necessary Medium for Memes”

  1. Hi Madeline,

    You have a strong argument in your post, and you do a fine job supporting it with evidence (also, LOVED the images you included hahaha!).

    Something to investigate would be sites like,, or because these sites host thousands of memes and have communities built around celebrating memes, which might be useful when thinking about media and community.

    Something else that might be interesting to explore is – what happens to the people who become memes? I.e. the crazy girlfriend, bad luck Tyler, douche bag hat guy, etc. When media becomes so accessible and shareable, how does an embarrassing picture or even image of text (for example, an internet message depicting a conversation with a girl cheating on her boyfriend currently fighting in Afghanistan went viral) impact the life of that person?

    • Madeline,
      I really like how you described the idea of going viral. I think that is one aspect of memes that is very important but often overlooked. We didn’t really talk about that in class, but I wouldn’t see memes if it weren’t for my instagram explore page.
      I agree with Jasmine that it might be beneficial to touch on the different types of memes and their reception. Are some memes more popular than others? How does one form a community around memes? I know I’m apart of many different meme Instagrams and meme pages, how do those play into this.
      much good, enjoyed lots.

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