The Collective Ride
There are infinite sources of memes on the internet, every day more are made by the thousands. The small portion that resonates with people and become "dank" are crafted by the select few (80/20). Within the masses sharing the same limited sources of effective memes, there is a "collective ride" for lack of better terminology. As moods and interests shift in the top percentage on the day to day, so too are these changes inherently baked into each meme. The best story tellers and comedians who innately grasp the archetypes and symbols and how to apply them suddenly set the tone for a digital society at large, highly socially awkward after two years of pandemic lockdown measures on all sides.
The digital memetic image (meme) is a unique social phenomenon in that it cannot be forced. Just as throughout media and across mediums there are storytellers that completely transcend not only their genre but all forms of art as a whole to be truly great, a work of art without peer, so it is true of the medium of digital memes; a select few grasp the patterns and can weave them in a way that affects the viewer, infects the viewer and spreads by share and repost. These masters of the craft understand the most crucial aspect, that of anonymity, the subjugation of the ego to a higher archetype (which causes a much more subtle bleed of personal life into art discussed later). The digital memes are expressions of greater Memes, best described by Jung as Archetypes, symbols that act through the collective unconscious, projecting previously repressed instincts into the conscious mind. That which is known cannot be memed, but you can use symbolism to invoke archetypes, and with some skill and luck craft a narrative digestible in a single glance, an entire epic condensed into a few inches of pixels and conveyed instantly. If not on accident it is often largely intuitive, an art that the human mind struggles to replicate yet AI has a firm grasp on, but that is another rant entirely. It is sensitive to internet traffic, global to local news, overall societal morale, trends and fads, pop culture itself, hauntology and effectively harvesting nostalgia, politics, psychology, biology, astronomy and astrology, any and every aspect of the reactionary global social order that the internet gave birth to, whose language is the meme.
We have three main classifications that serve to reduce the chaos into a manageable and measurable state. In historical order they are "Relatable memes", the cat videos that the internet was made for, the iconic "Ironic memes" in which the old rules are intentionally broken and source now ridiculed(contrarian, deconstructive, shock humor), and "Surreal memes", often layer in irony to the point at which it loops back around into sincerity two, three, or more times, often reframing and shifting the perspective on the source matter from outside of the paradigm altogether. Synchronicity can be measured through digital echo chambers and their overflow into reality in contrast with opposing echo chambers. Aesthetic can be derived and distilled from these observations, patterns established into a pallet to paint with, a movements weakness as much as its strength, the echo chamber your paints, reactions as your canvas.
If you're reading this, then I doubt I need to review the history of art with you. For our purposes here I would point to it as a cultural phenomenon, not simply a look and feel but the presence of a nation-culture, from the shape of its weapons and buildings to what its writers and painters produce. We measure periods of history (partially) by their volume and quality of art, materials and content. It is what separates us from other life (storytelling), and how I would interpret how we are made in God's image as individual agents of rebirth and creation through destruction, instead of the literal physical form (though the archetype is important, discard at your own risk). Without attempting any sort of chicken or the egg exercise, I find it an observable truth that art does not exist in a vacuum. It is tested by science and expressed by religious faith; a cycle of culture keeps everything moving whether pro- or re-gression. Science fiction, for example, has inspired countless technological advances and predicted large scale political shifts, expressed post war tragedies, explored religions past their logical conclusions out on the fringes of sanity, and given purpose to many in one way or another. The internet changed everything.
Global information, instantaneously. What could possibly go wrong? Since the 56k modem we have seen small communities appear and grow, supplemental to their analog counterparts in reality. Gaming became a competitive option with extreme convenience and has blossomed into a massive culture and lifestyle, with sub-cultures and niche sub-sub-cultures, etc. with their own politics and interests, traditions, rituals, greetings, its own pop culture nested in a massive piece of popular culture.
As the internet boomed in 2007 with YouTube and social media in its infancy, it became more common to see folks choosing fictional characters and franchises as a badge of identity, a way of belonging to such strongly gatekept groups. In 2016 a president was memed into office and this badge of identity phenomenon intensified, coinciding with the rise in pronoun politics. A raid on Area 51 was organized by the population at large and executed with a recording of a man ninja running to "clap alien cheeks", a piece of our history encapsulated in not just a photograph, but art that specifically targets the unconscious mind not long after we saw the lockdowns for the pandemic, in which gigantic swathes of the population were sentenced to two years of introversion and life mostly online.
Before this, a social media post that was made to unironically project identity was seen as strange behavior, that of the basement dwelling internet addict. Since the lockdowns it has become the norm and the social impact is a sort of collective hive mind, with only so many good memes (identities) to go around, only so many ways to echo them, and infinite classifications (72+genders, musical post-sub-genres, fracturing of political party's post 2020 US into many smaller very niche party branches of the uniparty). In this way identity is slowly replaced through extreme individuality with collective identities intensifying as they echo and resonate with each other, each post building upon the lore along this Collective Ride. Being "permanently online" for two plus years has caused not just social issues, but issues with social interactions on a larger scale. Communication appears to be largely breaking down, violence escalating in place of what would have been heated conversations at worst. No communication, no negotiation, no solutions. I wouldn't dare say it's the only factor but worth investigating deeper.
A breakup, job loss, injury and failure, a new purchase, a new relationship, a new project, success and victory. Every facet of the memetic artists life will affect their art. Some of the most impressive art both comes from and displays anguish and horrors. In the same way identity is amplified through echo chambers, so too is the emotion and chemicals that come with it. Not handfuls of people resonating. Not just a few hundred. Thousands, sometimes millions (Pewdiepie's views) of people absorbing this content, but also parasocially (one-way surrogate relationships) with the reactions, and the events of their lives (pets family life, living situation, etc.).
While this can be fine in moderation, extensive and continued exposure makes an impact (in this example largely positive and wholesome, relatable meme analysis and its own nested meta sub-culture, viewing society without the Fourth Wall via critique and irony, still within its own frame). If a culture can be judged by its quality of art, what does it say about the modern man who orders fan art not of a woman he would date, marry or procreate with, but a streamer? The pinnacle of a romantic fantasy being a one-sided relationship in which the object of affection does not even acknowledge his existence? We have progressed a tier further into fanaticism, in which the romantic ideal isn't just some streamer, but a fictional character in the role of parasocial influencer as not just acceptable but a social norm. We have also seen the first suicide over this. As VI and AI become a more socially accepted dating option for the work at home terminally online, and robotics advance further into the bedroom, as science puts art to the test things can only get weirder from here.
In their immensity, the fractal branches each become their own tulpa-esque daemons, deities and sub deities; entities being fed off of the collective feelings and attention of the viewer who is in turn changed by the archetype, each of us cells in its ephemeral body, naturally clustering into organs and echo chambers, not under the command of any individual. Just as we are the company we keep, the contents of our posts and reposts are also the contents of our minds, an order of magnitude greater than any propaganda could ever hope. You can watch someone infected (possessed?) with esoteric lifter memes for example and see first-hand their spiral into schizophrenia paralleled only by their gains.