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How old is "What People Think I Do / What I Really Do"?

Last posted Feb 22, 2012 at 01:19AM EST. Added Feb 21, 2012 at 01:02AM EST
13 posts from 8 users

I’m going to essentially repost my comment from the entry here.

Okay, let’s beat the crowd to dumping this in here, several of the editors of this entry are already aware of this, and will no doubt incorporate it in some fashion. Someone found this in the Wellesley College 1909 yearbook:


Now while some like this person are going to claim this as the “invention” of the meme, I would claim (as I did in the comments on that site) that this meme is simply a visual representation of a certain sort of ironic humor that existed long before 1909. In less than ten minutes of Google searching, I turned up this cartoon from 1903:


While not as close to the format typical in this meme entry as the Wellesley cartoon, I think it demonstrates the form of humor is older than 1909, and I suspect research could dig up older, better examples.

Your thoughts?

The modern meme has its roots in the older humour, that much is clear. But the key is deciding how you want to define the origin of the meme; either it’s the origin of the humour, such as the Droste Effect, or just the origin of the viral spread of the meme (2012 in this case). You could set it up like the Spider-man entry, with the “Year” field as 2012 and the “Origin” field as 1909.

Or you split up the origin, giving it 2 sub-headers.

  • You start with a section about “pre-internet”, explaining that the meme has roots from a period far before the internet existed. Using the stuff already posted here.
  • Then a section about its internet origin. Explaining where it first appeared online.

It wouldn’t be the first entry to use this. I can see if I can help out with the formatting when I get home.

But you see, I take issue with the idea that the 1909 picture is the source/origin/whatever in any realistic manner. I would agree that it’s directly related if any of the following were found to be true:

A) Evidence exists that students at Wellesley in 1909 saw this cartoon and were so impressed with the humor that many of them made their own versions.
B) Someone in 2012 happened to be leafing through this 1909 yearbook and, coming across this cartoon, thought they would make a modernized version, which started the new trend.
C) As a sort of in-between of the previous two, some time between 1909 and 2012, someone came across the Wellesley cartoon and made a modernized version for whatever time they were in, which led to a string of copy-cats that only finally hit the web in 2012.
D) ?something else that connects the cartoon with the web meme that I just can’t think of?

What I’m saying is that while the picture is interesting and I hope it gets worked into the article, saying that this was the invention of that meme would be like saying, “Rembrandt invented planking!”

“Rodin invented Tebowing!”

“The ancient Greeks invented tentacle Hentai!”

or “The ancient Egyptians invented furry fandom!”

Last edited Feb 21, 2012 at 05:31AM EST

Those examples might be a bit extreme, but they’re actually legit origins in some way.

Internet Slang sub-entries are a good example of pre-internet origin. Check up entries like LOL, Noob and Swag, amongst others.

The original meaning of “LOL” was a whole lot different in the past, same with “swag” and “noob”, which both originated from different words. In time and with the constant development of the media, they just gained a different meaning. Making the pre-internet origin not so much related to the current meaning.

Yet, it does show that it has possible roots there. That in some way, it has developed to the words we now know so well. This could be the same with these images. Internet can take strange turns.

Emoticons, for example, originated from typography art. A closer example, but different nonetheless.

Last edited Feb 21, 2012 at 06:43AM EST

Instead of making a section called ‘Pre-internet Origins’ just call it ‘Historical Precedent.’

It still shows that the cartoons are from an earlier period but doesn’t imply that they are the reason this fad started.

Chris wrote:

Instead of making a section called ‘Pre-internet Origins’ just call it ‘Historical Precedent.’

It still shows that the cartoons are from an earlier period but doesn’t imply that they are the reason this fad started.

Yeah, it’s always good to avoid making assumptive connections between the original version of series X versus “precursors” (or historical precedents) with similar characteristics discovered after series X became popular.

As for the earliest instance of art / literature illustrating different points of views, I think it’s an interesting hunt, though I’m not sure if it’s a tangible project. The closest relevant items in academia I could find was social identity theory and self-categorization theory… If I remember booklearnin’ correctly, this sort of thinking has its roots in psychoanalysis too.

Chris wrote:

Instead of making a section called ‘Pre-internet Origins’ just call it ‘Historical Precedent.’

It still shows that the cartoons are from an earlier period but doesn’t imply that they are the reason this fad started.

Excellent idea!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Internet memes can’t have pre-Internet origins; one of my earliest entries in the database was Dysfunctional Family Circus, which I had personally seen in print before the web existed. And while I joke about the Greek statue of Laocoon, I am aware of the fact that tentacle Hentai goes back to the 1800s in Japanese art.

All I’m saying--and I’ll use a more recent example from one of my own entries--is that the connection between the present-day meme and the Wellesley cartoon is akin to the connection between the Honey Badger meme and the “6 Animals That Just Don’t Give a F#@k” article on The similarity is just coincidental, and the later, more popular memes were started by people who exhibit no indication of being aware of the precursor.

Also, this morning I remembered another interesting connection to this meme. I first saw it in the ‘80s, but apparently it goes back to the ’70s at the very least. I’m talking about the “swing project cartoon” meme, which somebody researched here and has been given continued life on the Internet with sites like this. Once again, I don’t think there’s a direct relationship between this old meme and “What people think I do”, but once again, the concept is strikingly similar.

I think a lot of memes are ideas from irl that just get recycled and retold via the internet. Human nature is cyclical in a way, people come to the same ideas differently. The dude who started the internet fad didn’t have to see the Wellesley edition to get to the same place -- asking yourself “what does this person think about me?” is a relatively common occurrence. it’s just changed by the method by which it’s shared.


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