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How should we handle things that are "from the mainstream"?

Last posted Jul 30, 2009 at 11:58PM EDT. Added Jul 22, 2009 at 09:10AM EDT
14 posts from 8 users

"Ze Goggles, Zey Do Nothing"
"I for one, welcome our new robot overlords"
"The cake is a lie"

I've always had the opinion that if a catch-phrase or joke comes directly from a mainstream TV series, movie, or video game without changing the core of the joke, then it's not an Internet Meme.

But that's not so clearly defined. Team Fortress 2 fans apply TF2 characters and catchphrases to almost every Internet Meme out there. There are countless "The Cake Is a Lie" image macros even though it's the main running gag in Portal; a game that you'd have to be in a coma to not be familiar with. The Simpsons have surpassed the point of pop culture or classic television to becoming a historic piece of Americana. These all seemed too big and too influential to consider Internet Memes.

About Memetic Behavior

A meme is an idea that passes from one person to another by the value of it's own qualities. If the meme is funny enough or attention-grabbing enough, then the meme stands a good chance of "living on" in new instances. This is self-propagation, and it functions similar to natural-selection. Memes that do not hold a persons attention and do not inspire people to create more of it naturally die off.

Now, if a catch-phrase (or other "joke") makes it's first public appearence in popular culture via a mainstream source with an already-dedicated fanbase, then the idea is not self-propagating. The owners of the catch-phrase can deliver that message to their audience as long as they want to, even after their audience has grown tired of it. In a sense, the meme is then being danced around on wires, but it can't walk on it's own.

Where things get tricky

Azumanga Daioh is a huge pop cultural phenomenon in Japan. In Japan, it is a fairly mainstream series, and is widely recognizable. But the mainstream series has spawned a few Internet Phenomena that seem to be worth note:

"I Wish I Were a Bird"/"OH MY GAH!" gains attetion for being a humorous moment of Engrish.

This is very similar to the "Ze Goggles, Zey Do Nothing" catch-phrase meme from The Simpsons. Both are from large mainstream series, but both are obscure catchphrases that are not among the usual catch-phrases associated with the show among their core audiences. They are both obscure jokes that likely gained their popularity online. I'm going to move "Ze Goggles" back into "researching" now that I've viewed it with this comparison.

"1) X 2) Y 3)???? 4)Profit!" comes directly from South Park, but it is still so widely used online that it seems to be commonly accepted as an Internet Meme.

What we want to know from you

So how do we fairly assess the "too mainstream" problem? In your opinion, when is something too mainstream to be considered an Internet Meme? And for that matter, at what point is something to niche to be considered an Internet Meme?

I think we should put in more sections, to be honest, and a tougher panel that decides what is a "meme."
So of the memes on the site, are, not as popular or really meme-y as others. It's really annoying when you can't find something because it's covered over by things that aren't really memes. Also, there needs to be a category of just Advice Dog variations.

Now to deal with mainstream memes. I think their should be a panel that decides how often these are remixed, used, and referred back to. If the amount is sufficient, it'll become a "submission" then people will maybe have a chance to vote if they thing it should stay on the site, and achieve meme status.

If I may, would the admins add something so there might be a
"(your everyday)MEMES" "TOP 10 (the best of the week)MEMES" "POPULAR MEMES"
It would be easier to maybe find a meme that way, so I don't have something that really isn't a meme in my way when searching.
And we should try to cut down on foreign memes unless their popular in North America too, because this is a English speaking, United States based site, correct? And I personally don't use Slavic memes.

on foreign memes
The site is based in the US, but traffic to the site isn't all from the US.

You can see that the majority of traffic comes from the rest of the world. These other countries obviously can read English if they're using the site, but they tend to like having their own local memes represented, and we're glad to do what we can for them. Consider it a courtesy we extend to our guests.

Confirmed vs. Submissions

Any time someone creates a meme entry, it appears in SUBMISSIONS. This isn't the place to look for memes. This is the place to find what other people say are memes, and that our admins need to research, fact-check, and confirm. Once this is done, the meme is promoted to the CONFIRMED section and disappears from "Submissions." We simply don't have the manpower to monitor every submission as they come in. They tend to sit for a little while in SUBMISSIONS before going to CONFIRMED or DEADPOOL.

As for the panel that you're talking about, we have a number admins that were selected for their knowlege and judgement. We would love to be tougher about what we accept, but there have been users that get very upset when we're not familiar with the inside joke they came up with yesterday while playing Halo, or a long-running inside joke known only to people who frequently visit bodybuidlingforums.

If I were to immediately deadpool every meme that I'm not personally familiar with, I'd be pissing off a lot of people. So we try to give a fair look at every meme that comes our way. Sometimes they really AREN'T memes in any way (like they were just made up on the spot) and they are quickly deadpooled.

More often, the meme is something that only a small niche group is familiar with, but they're rabid about the meme and have created a million and one variations of it. We usually try to address the fact that it is a niche meme, but confirm that it exists and gets used.

More Sections
We hear you loud and clear! We definitely need more sections and categorization on the site, and this is high on our list of things to do. Also, a voting/rating system is in the works, although I don't have any details on that just yet. But trust in the mighty Greg Leuch and Jamiedubs that it will be worth the wait.


Pterodactyl, you and others have mentioned frustration over finding memes. And we're noticing a lot of submissions for memes that are already in the database. Are you having troubles with the Search box in the upper-right corner of the screen? Is it not working for you?

My two cents.

< spoiler > I'm gonna mention the Burger King < /spoiler >

When it comes to textual memes, I feel that if it's not an integrea part of the original source, it should probably be a meme (as long as there is enough remixes, mutations, and so on and so on).

Where my theory wins

Example 1: One does not simply walk into Mordor.

- It's from a very, very popular movie (LotR) but it's a forgetable line.

- There are a lot of instances.

It's a meme.

Example 2: It's dangerous to go alone.

- Very popular game (LoZ) very important line (you get your first sword).

- A lot of instances.

Not a meme.

Why? Because when you talk about the game, more often than not, you'll mention the line.

When you talk about LotR you don't say, "Remember when Boromir said you can't walk into Mordor? That made the movie for me."

Where my theory fails.

This is where things get hazy.

When you talk about the episode of the Simpsons with the Radioactive Man movie, "Ze goggles! Zey do nothing!" might very well come up. It was a very funny part of the episode, so memeness is debatable. Same thing with the Burger King. Unless BK drops the King and goes with a new mascot but The Creepy King continues (then I will confirm it at the drop of a hat) BK and The Burger King will be connected. That's how marketing works. Memeness is disputed.

In conclusion, extensive debate should decide mainstream memes in my opinion. Well, at least until the Rocketboom development weaselmen and their masters Jamie and Greg conjure up an elaborate coin-flipping feature.

My two cents:

I tend to sort memes on this rule of thumb: popularity within common netizens

This is measured by:

-The contribution the internet did to make it popular
-amount of fan works
-amount of recognition as a meme
-(optional) meme crossovers
-(optional) created by internet
-(optional) mainstream recognition

If "Ze Goggles" is considered a meme, then this theory fails. But if not, then the theory works. For me, I say "Ze goggles" is not a meme, but under the category "popular catchphrases".

Alright, Jamie Dubs and Brad Kim made some relevent remarks in another thread that pertain to this.

Jamie Dubs:

The next version of the site will allow us to isolate Mainstream stuff into its own section (even an SNL sub-section), which would allow us to give this kind of stuff a home without tainting the lulz.

I really don’t want All Your Base and How is Babby Formed featured right next to Dick in a Box… but this is an exceptionally popular video with lots of remixes (furries I’m thinking of you)

Brad Kim:

yes, viral videos & entries with mainstream roots like “dick in a box” and “get to the choppa” will find a new home in the coming version!

meantime, if anybody wants to help bookmarking “controversial/deadpool” entries that should be re-categorized or reconsidered, please feel free to do so by posting:


I think that if a meme is being defined as a cultural piece of information, than memes from the mainstream should pay homage to their cultural origin and then go on to explain the evolution (if any) that has taken place online. Some meme's don't evolve beyond their mainstream origins and some do, even to the point of being seperate – "I for one, welcome our new X overlords" doesn't require any knowledge of or reference to the Simpsons, however "Milhouse is not a meme is not a meme </worst meme ever>" is intrinsically tied in to the T.V show. If a clear progress between mainstream and internet subculture is viable for discussion, than more power to the meme and those foolish enough to chronical it, however if this isn't possible than deadpooling it doesn't do the concept of this site justice unless it goes against its spirit (whatever that may be).

Also, a meme is transmitted repeatedly in a viral fashion. The transmission mechanism should be explained such as with google trends, images, etc. which can be taken from online sources – this is a practical solution to mainstream memes as if it doesn't have an online presence, than these sources won't be available and the memes description will be weaker because of this. Granted, a mainstream meme has a greater saturation in one form alone, however the nature of the internet allows for many parties to do with memes as they see fit, expanding and evolving them for the lulz of all, beyond mainstream origins.

An example which I have been considering is the "Meth – Not Even Once" campaign. This is a mainstream advertising campaign designed to stop teenagers from taking up sweet sweet crystal meth, however it evolved briefly into an online "wtf" type image meme. One doesn't need to know of the campaign to understand the meme it evolved into, nor of the meme it evolved into to understand its "wtf" nature. Whilst its origins are mainstream, its 15 minutes of internet fame are not, highlighting that memes are ideas which are transmitted between thinking parties who chop and change them as they please – in this particular case, there are three seperate memes occuring, which should be handled as seperate entities of the overall meme.

i agree we should add more sections, however, maybe un-memes should be deleted instead of deadpooled, i understand that if a meme is written poorly (much like this comment will be)we can simply improve upon it (repairable section?) but most of the deadpool stuff is advice dog variants and forced crap i.e. the robo jesus whose author stated "the only variant that exists"

therefore make a section for not awful memes which can be saved and make a section for or just outright delete spam and crap memes

Just wondering, how should meme's that get into the mainstream be handled? For instance,when the episode of Family Guy called “Boys Do Cry” premiered. In one of the gags Chuck Norris facts where mentioned and then the meme was dead to anyone who liked it beforehand.

Does the mainstream kill internet memes like video killed the radio star? Don't think of the song by the way, it will totally get stuck in your head. Sorry :/

We're well aware of the Family Guy effect, and have been gathering some research for some time.

Let me draw your attention to this Google Insights comparison of search trends for "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" and for "Chuck Norris Facts."

Search traffic for "Chuck Norris Facts" peaked in January of 2006 and began to fall hard by March. The Family Guy episode that refrenced "Chuck Norris Facts" aired on April 29th, 2007. Family Guy can't be faulted for killing the joke, just beating a dead horse.

"Peanut Butter Jelly Time", on the other hand, is a different story. The meme had been around since 2002, and even made a mainstream crossover on the NBC show Ed that same year. This did little to boost search traffic, which we would interpret as doing little to raise interest in the meme. It was recognizable to many, and a viral phenomenon in some sense. But on November 20th, 2005, Family Guy aired their spoof of Peanut Butter Jelly Time, and the next month searches for "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" were up sevenfold from the month before. Because of this, there were many people who were introduced to an already tired meme, and under the impression that "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" CAME FROM Family Guy.

At the time (previous job), I had a particular co-worker who came in singing and dancing to PBJT after having just seen it on Family Guy. And a number of coworkers were enjoying his antics since they too had seen it on Family Guy. This coworker went on to adopt this as his personal, tiresome schtick which honestly was a relief since he was still trying to get mileage out of Dave Chapelle quotes just prior to that.

So does Family Guy kill memes? Not at all. In fact, the effect the show had on PBJT was great for the life the meme. It gave it a boost in popularity, even if all they did was dust it off and bring it to a larger audience. The problem was that they were trying to be "obscure" and accidentally gave masses of noobs the impression that what they were seeing was original.

Really, Family Guy isn't at fault; just most of their audience.

As a recent fan of the site, I think you've been doing a good job so far. Don't overthink it guys, stick with the basics: if it's fun, viral, popular and exploitable, consider it a meme.
Failure to meet any of these requirements makes it naught but a one shot joke IMO, but you seem to have thought things over before and it has worked out well. Keep it up. We salute you.


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