This is a long one, inspired by a conversation Yatta and I had a couple of days ago.
There is an obvious stigma associated with exposing some memes to a wide audience. Many have expressed the idea that explaining a meme will shorten its lifespan.
First of all, there is this common misconception that a meme is an inside-joke. Some memes start out as inside-jokes, but by the point that it has become a meme, the insider-quality is usually already gone.
This idea that mainstream exposure of a meme shortens the meme’s lifespan is a popular one, even though it’s nearly all-together false. This idea has been called The Family Guy Effect because of the common appearance of different internet memes on the show. But most of the time, the memes referenced on Family Guy are already “old meme” by the time they make their mainstream debut, and end up actually experiencing a resurgence in popularity, even if it is short-lived.
But, even if the exact function of The Family Guy effect isn’t wholly accurate, I understand where this idea comes from. For many, certain lesser-known memes serve not only as a means of entertainment, but as a means of identifying other members of your community.
At one point in time, knowing how to properly respond to “Itty bitty baby” was a way of proving to another Anons that you had been around for a while.
So then, by explaining a meme in accessible language, the “insider” quality of a joke is lost. Knowledge of the joke no longer functions as a means of identifying other like-minded individuals.
So is this a threat to anyone’s way of life?
Even though we’ve stated before that there’s really nothing that “underground” about a site like 4chan that serves around 600,000 people each day, there’s still this dynamic where some members still try to claim old-skool cred, and feel threatened when noobs walk in knowing all the old jokes. It becomes even harder to differentiate an “oldfag” from a “newfag.”
So, is this a problem?
The way I see it, that all depends on one’s own individual feelings.
Is 4chan your refuge, where you feel accepted because of your ability to conform to the common chanspeak?
In 1998, I had a small group of friends that were into electronic music. The five of us were some of the only kids in our school that were into that sort of thing. At the time, Daft Punk’s Around the World was this underground hit that my friends and I all knew about, but that the nobody else in this Northern Minnesota town had any clue about.
Because it was a specific niche and it wasn’t mainstream, we appreciated something that was “against the norm” as though it was some kind of privileged information. It was considered “weird” by most other kids we knew. By being into techno, house, trance, etc, we were forming our own exclusive tribe.
Then, by 2003 when the video for “One More Time” started showing up on MTV, I remember thinking, “Whatever, I’m over Daft Punk anyway.”
So then, by the time the “Daft Hands” and “Daft Bodies” video memes set to “Technologic” started appearing on Youtube in 2006, I was kind of amazed and a little bit angry that Daft Punk had become something with mass-appeal.
Why was I angry? At the time, I sort of felt like people who were brand new to Daft Punk couldn’t fully appreciate the band since they weren’t already listening to them when the band debuted like I had. Because I had been aware of them for so long, I felt as though there was something more true or genuine about my appreciation compared to theirs.
I suppose it’s the same thing that anyone who experienced the commercialization of punk music and hip-hop. Both styles of music at one point acted as pieces of cultural identity before being co-opted and assimilated into the larger mainstream cultural landscape. Today, there are watered-down, mass-appeal versions of both punk and hip-hop. But I think it’s important to understand that mainstream exposure didn’t kill either of these genres. There are still fully legitimate forms of punk and hip-hop being produced.
TL;DR “The Family Guy Effect” is dumb, but not unfounded.