Memes used to be cool. Memes used to be those hip new things from The Internet you’d say to your friends to remind them how funny you are and/or were. Memes used to mean something. Now, after a period in the wilderness, the Golden Age of 2014 and 2015 has brought us a world in which we don’t have to say that in the past tense anymore. Dank memes are cool again.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit – that those things you so eagerly dismissed as uncool and not-even-that-popular are back in vogue – but it’s true. What’s been breathtaking is not only the speed at which memes have crossed the great divide back into the collective euphoric language of the species, but the sheer breadth of modern memery. Long gone are the days of lolcats and icanhascheezburger.com. Memes have entered an ironic phase of aesthetic enjoyment – a state of dankness.
I’d argue that this is most obvious in what’s been an exceptional six months for the rare Pepe. Pepe the Frog began in 2008 in a wildly different format. Back then, it was just “feels good man” – nothing too strenuous as far as memes go. Whilst there have always been variations, as you can expect from a cultural document that’s constantly being manipulated by consumers, there wasn’t much change in the years that followed – whether it was Angry Pepe, Smug Pepe or Sad Pepe, the same themes led throughout.
Things have changed spectacularly in the last six months, though. We now speak of the “rare Pepe” – a Pepe that has market value, a Pepe that interacts with the economic law of scarcity, and a Pepe that holds worth independently of its existence as a meme. Rare Pepes are collected, perhaps ironically, perhaps not – with hundreds of thousands of variations including motifs such as the Illuminati and graphic artefacts. It’s a form of meme that interacts with the wider world and even lets us consider what it all means in this post-GFC world, where instability reigns supreme.
Could we have predicted this dank meme resurgence? Beats me.