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Meme Elitism is an online ideology rooted in the opposition to the popularization of memes among non-underground communities and the mainstream media. While elitism has been a staple element of online communities since the days of Usenet newsgroups, such disdain for the promulgation of meme culture can be seen as a countermovement to the growing influence of social media in the Internet culture which began in the late 2000s. Those who pertain to this belief tend to have ties with online communities that thrived before the arrival of Web 2.0 and view themselves as arbitrators of what a meme can be and cannot be.
Selling Out is defined as the compromising of integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or “success” (however defined). Concerning the video game, cinema or music industry, It happens when fans of a peculiar franchise, producer or band feel there is a change in artistic direction to a more “mainstream”, and thus, more commercial approach of their work, whether it’s actually true or not, in order to encompass a wider audience or to become more “successful” and gain money. It usually results in a disapproval and rejection by hardcore fans who may feel betrayed by such change, what TV Tropes defines as “It’s Popular, Now it Sucks” while Kathy Sierra defines it as the Kool-Aid Point.
When it comes to internet memes, a similar trend of thought may occur when memes are brought to a wider audience, especially if it comes from the mainstream media or anything non-internet-related that may want to reuse them on their own, including possible merchandising, advertising and product placement. It’s then said that the meme had Jumped the Shark. A good example of this subjective phenomenon can be read in a Ranked article about “The 9 Worst Times Internet Memes Jumped the Shark”.
4chan and Encyclopedia Dramatica
Encyclopedia Dramatica was started in 2004 by LiveJournal user Sherrod DeGrippo. It grew out of a LiveJounral community called LJDrama, which documented dramatic events in users’ lives; LJDrama was eventually shut down, and Encyclopedia Dramatica took its place, expanding its reach to include internet culture in general. However, Encyclopedia Dramatica was quickly discovered and dominated by users of 4chan’s /b/ board, who turned the site’s originally serious air into a haven for trolls. The Encyclopedia became famous for hosting uncensored NSFW material. The site’s creator stated at the 2011 ROFLCon panel “Internet Underground” that she was so appalled by the quality of the material, that in 2011 she replaced the site with the SFW site Oh Internet.
Many EDiots (former ED editors and users from their fora) tend to emphasize on the fact that a series of decisions made by Sherrod prior to what they called the “Sell-out” led to the site “going downhill”, dividing them into pro-Sherrod and anti-Sherrod sides.
A mirror site was created at Encyclopedia Dramatica.ch (and then Encyclopedia Dramatica.se) in order to keep running the old version of the website, with its old spirit and community.
With regards to memes, though Encyclopedia Dramatica is all about satire and parody, its userbase took a similar stance as the users of 4chan, as their populations largely intersect. Most 4chan users, notably those of the /b/ board, consider their site to be the origin of all noteworthy memes, and accuse other sites such as Reddit and 9gag (see Hatred for Reddit and 9gag, below) of stealing and distributing their content. In that way, ED and 4chan tend to take an aloof attitude towards memes, and are quick to disparage ones that do not originate on 4chan.
Concepts of Old, Dead and Forced Memes
Since memes are such dynamic entities, they have a tendency to fall out of use after time, especially once the joke or idea becomes stale. A prime example of this is Demotivational Posters, which gained their height of popularity in 2010, and have since fallen into disuse. Although one can still find examples of demotivational posters online, they are not received with the same enthusiasm as they once were. A distinction can be made between “old” and “dead” memes; an “old” meme still finds occasional usage, while a “dead” meme is rarely seen.
“Forced” memes, on the other hand, are memes that do not attain the spread that the creator desires. A “forced” meme generally rely on inside jokes or narrow humour that are not widely understandable, and are heavily promoted by one or a small number of people. In many cases, “forced” memes exist as spinoffs of more popular memes, notably Advice Dog spinoffs and Rage Face derivatives. “Forced” memes are generally eschewed by net users who consider themselves to be “experienced,” such as those who frequent sites such as 4chan, Memebase, and KnowYourMeme. They also tend to look down on sites that popularize or facilitate the spread of what they consider to be “forced” memes, such as Reddit and 9gag (see Hatred for Reddit and 9gag, below); thus, users of Reddit and 9gag may be more attracted to “forced” memes, and often draw the ire of the more “experienced” users.
The Concept of “Cancer”
An internet cancer is a meme or subculture that spreads across all corners of the internet, as a cancer would spread throughout the human body. It is used as a pejorative term to describe phenomena that have become “too” popular and widespread, such as Advice Animals. A “cancer,” because it is “too” notable, is usually seen as a detriment to internet culture, usually because it attracts unwanted attention from mainstream media.
As a matter of fact, cancer has become a persistent insult throughout the years to name both a meme considered “forced” or the people spreading it.
To call something “forced”, “old”, “dead” or “cancerous” depends greatly on one’s opinion and isn’t necessarily a commonly agreed fact. While, in some cases, the designation may be valid, witnessed by people as a constant stream of reposts like it happened for Girugamesh, Fuck Yeah Seaking in its early stage or even Apples Bear, it can become an easy and misleading way of referring to something growing in popularity that a group of people doesn’t like at all.
eBaum’s World and Watermarks
One common source of conflict over memes is their source. A site that has had many problems with this is eBaum’s World, which has drawn anger from other sites for hosting content without attribution. Specifically, uploaders removed watermarks on images and other content from other sites, such as Newgrounds and Something Awful. Net users claimed that this was essentially claiming ownership of the content. eBaum’s World retorted that they were perfectly within their rights to do so, as per their upload policy. The first incident occurred in 2006 when eBaum’s World watermarked an image from YTMND, sparking a feud between the sites. This was followed by similar incidents involving Something Awful, 4chan, and Albino Blacksheep. The site was even threatened with legal action from Viacom for illegally hosting content owned by them.
More recently, 9gag has been accused of similar practices. The site has a policy of adding a large watermark to all images hosted there, and many 4channers have accused the site’s users of improperly distributing their content.
LOLcats and I Can Has Cheezburger?
LOLcats are a series of image macros that were popularized on 4chan, featuring pictures of cats with captions in lolspeak. They have become so widespread that they are seen by some as being synonymous with internet culture. Their spread was greatly aided by the site I Can Has Cheezburger?, a single-topic blog started in 2007 that originally focused on LOLcats. The central component of the site is the LOL Builder, which allows any user to construct their own LOLcat image. Once again, 4chan was quick to decry Cheezburger, saying that the LOL Builder allowed for the shameless and thoughtless derivatization of their memes.
Cheezburger and its LOL Builder have since been expanded to include other content, such as Demotivational Posters and Rage Comics. This only served to further 4chan’s hatred of the site, and many 4channers consider the LOL Builder to have “killed” the Demotivational Posters meme.
Advice Dog Spinoffs and the Adult Swim incident
As previously mentioned, many spinoffs of Advice Dog are seen as “forced” by many net users, with a common complaint being that pretty much anybody can make their own derivative. This problem was brought to a head when, in October of 2009, Adult Swim showed a “message” from Courage Wolf.
This was immediately picked up on across the internet; Courage Wolf was already considered by many to be a forced spinoff of Advice Dog, and many claimed that its appearance in mainstream media was the death of the meme. Adult Swim was accused of shamelessly raiding 4chan humour without researching it. The incident was addressed in the Know Your Meme episode about Advice Dog:
While it’s only natural to become distressed when your favorite band “sells out”, to treat memes like exclusive knowledge is to forget the very purpose of memes, to propagate. Those who propagate the most win, and those who create the content that propagates the most write their way into internet culture history.
Meme Builders/Generators vs. Original Content (OC)
A common complaint about the overuse of memes is the prevalence of meme builders or generators, especially on sites like Cheezburger. These allow anyone to construct their own instance of a meme, or in some cases to construct their own derivative or spin-off of a more popular meme. People creating their own instances of memes is frowned upon as it contributes to the spread and over-use of popular memes (see Dead Memes, above). Allowing people to create their own derivatives of popular memes is seen by many as shameless plagiarism of other people’s original content. The original creators of some easily-derivatized memes, such as Demotivational Posters and Advice Animals, are seen as being creative forces within the internet community (at least insofar as their original style of humour), while those who create derivatives of their original content are seen as being uncreative, at best. As such, meme builders are generally seen as being a haven for “forced” memes, as well as contributing to the over-use of popular memes.
Know Your Meme
Know Your Meme was started in 2008 to document the use and spread of memes and other internet phenomena, much as Encyclopedia Dramatica was originally intended to. The site has been hailed by many as providing a useful service to those who are not as familiar with internet culture. Despite this, it has been criticized by some net users for shamelessly promoting and commercializing memes which it has no hand in creating. Know Your Meme’s policy of allowing any user to submit a meme entry has caused some users to question whether or not the site takes too large a role in propagating “forced” memes.
It is important to point out that, because of its growing status as a database for internet culture, Know Your Meme, mainly its community, is inhabited by the same elitism sentiment; this is especially apparent when it comes to entries made by new members, and the approach to documenting memes in general.
Operation: Stop Their Scheme
A breaking point in the hatred happened when Know Your Meme’s former owner RocketBoom released a video titled GIMME PIZZA: MEME OVERLOARD, based on the GIMME PIZZA meme. It featured a large amount of Internet memes to reference the meme overload phenomenon.
Seen as a perfect example of a more “mainstream” medium ruining memes, starting around October 2010, several anonymous raids were perpetrated on Know Your Meme following an operation called Operation: Stop Their Scheme. Threads on several boards (mainly 711chan and rockstarchan) were made in order to gather information on the Know Your Meme staff, to prank them, and to plan DDoS attacks on the site. Encyclopedia Dramatica noticed that the raids were a failure, despite the effort to make themselves heard.
Chevrolet Sonic Ad Campaign
In 2011, Chevrolet began a sponsorship deal with Know Your Meme. To promote the Sonic, Chevrolet sponsored multiple memes, such as Nyan Cat and various Advice Animals, which were labelled “SoniComedy” on the front page of the site. Some users of the site, as well as visitors from other sites such as 4chan, viewed this as the ultimate selling-out and commercialization of memes.
Hatred for Reddit and 9gag
Reddit, and more recently 9gag, often draw the hate of net users, especially 4channers, for distributing and popularizing memes that do not originate on their sites, and so do not “belong” to them. There is also a more common criticism on the constant reuse of memes by both sites, and “overabuse” by them.
Reddit is older and more established than 9gag, and has a much larger userbase; it was created in 2005. Its focus is on sharing links, images, and other content, while allowing users to comment on posts. As such, it has been very influential in the development and spread of memes. 4chan has often accused Reddit of “stealing” their memes; some memes originating on 4chan have been widely popularized by Reddit, such as Exploitables. However, since Reddit has such a large userbase, many memes have originated there.
9gag, on the other hand, was started in 2008 for the express purpose of sharing humorous images. The site and its userbase are generally despised amongst net users, as most people consider its content to be mindless regurgitation of memes that have been popularized on other sites. Some 9gag users claimed to have created memes that originated on other sites, most notably on 4chan’s /b/ board, and have adopted some of 4chan’s terminology by referring to themselves as “The Legion.” This infuriated 4channers and started a large-scale feud between the sites. In late December 2011, 4chan flooded 9gag with pornographic and violent content, with the assistance of the users of tumblr, Reddit, and FunnyJunk, and then brought down the parts of the site with DDoS attacks. The feud is still ongoing.
Although the hatred of Reddit has waned over the past few years, it is still usually looked down upon by 4channers. Much of that hate has been transferred to 9gag, which remains one of the most despised sites on the internet.