In Too Deep: What Is A Meme (And Is The Dress One)?

Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.

Well I come out of my mini-retirement to bring comment on the latest fad sweeping the internet. Even though I’m at the tail-end of it, I decided it was better to wait to see if anything new happened. But since it didn’t…

What is a meme? A miserable pile of in-jokes. It seems standard now that memes are part in parcel with the internet, but that doesn’t actually explain what a meme is. What are they? Why do they exist? Have they always existed? And, most importantly, why did the whole world stop for a moment to complain about a damn dress? Well, lets find out.

So to start, The Dress. If you’ve been away from the internet for the last 72 hours you would have missed this entirely, but to recap: A picture of a dress was put online that, in just the right lighting conditions, appeared white and gold rather than blue and black. Now The Dress really is blue and black, it’s been proven countless times, there is no debate to that. However, the photo was altered just enough to prove one side more right than the other. There wasn’t one picture of the dress floating around… there were three. One which was much clearer white and gold (due to how it was edited in relation to the light), the original photo, and the much clearer black and blue one (again, due to how it was edited in relation to the light). Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the proof:


Neat, huh? Well what we have here is a simple optical illusion. For example, take this image:

So, which one is bigger? Now scientifically, all three figures are the same side. But intuitively, the one down the end looks bigger due to how the background is laid out. Our mind is tricked into seeing something that isn’t real. Same goes for this dress. Your mind is tricked into seeing something fake because it feels like it’s the right thing, even though it isn’t. But that’s The Dress itself. The thing that started this debate. A simple image that got altered a few times and caused a neat little trick. Hardly seems like a big deal, right?

And that last sentence sums it all up beautifully. Now I saw the original post about the dress appear on my Facebook feed a total of two times, by two different people… I saw people complaining about the dress from at least five to six different people, all of them pointing out that the controversy was silly. Stuff along the lines of “Why is everyone talking about this” and “Why is this on national/international TV”. The usual reaction to seeing something that gets over-hyped… but lets actually look at this properly. Two or three people post a picture about the dress, the original source of all this. Eight to twelve people post a reaction to this dress, asking what the big deal is. More people are talking about the reaction to the dress than they are talking about the dress itself. And that’s why The Dress got so big and so well-spread. No one was talking about the image… everyone was talking about the reaction. The reaction that they themselves were creating by talking about it. After all, how many things on the internet have no provoked such a large discussion? Tons. Too many to count. This would have been just the same… if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone was talking about how much people were talking about it. Except, not a lot of people were talking about it. In comparison very few were talking about the dress. So by complaining that The Dress was way too over-hyped they were themselves making The Dress and the discussion around it way too over-hyped. By trying to stop something they just fuelled it even more.

But that was why The Dress was so big. That doesn’t cover all of it though. Because with every popular thing on the internet, there are the jokes that come with it. And this is what turns something into a full-on meme. Now these jokes come in two forms: Either applying The Dress onto another meme, or applying another meme onto The Dress. For example:

Mugglebornheadcanon: “Muggleborns enchant a dress to switch colours and accidentally post a picture of it online, leading to much discussion and a stern reprimand from their Head of House about using Tumblr at Hogwarts.”

It currently has over 4,000 notes, which is more than usual for the blog. And I was the one who wrote it (go me). But lets look at this joke. I take one thing (The Dress) and apply it to another thing (in this case, Harry Potter, with the more specific subset of muggle things interacting with the wizarding world in an amusing fashion). The first meme (The Dress) is put together with the second meme (Harry Potter) to create a joke. This is an example of the former. The latter would involve taking a famous meme (say, “All Your Base Belong To Us”) and putting it onto The Dress. The former is far more common, but the latter happens. But why do I bring this up?

Because the success of a meme comes mostly from how much fun can be had with it. The Dress brought in a lot of really good jokes, which could be played around with a lot. You could apply it to all sorts of things, whether current social issues, jokes of the past, or popular culture that hasn’t already been used recently. New memes can be created because of this one meme. That is how a meme survives. Taking this, this simple object, and giving it a life of its own beyond what it already had. Having the object become unimportant when compared to the reputation it has. At this point there are jokes being made about The Dress that only barely connect to The Dress. It plays off the idea of it, and requires one to understand that The Dress exists in the first place to get the joke.

So that’s the three sides of memes. You have the initial object, the reaction that keeps on building it up, and the jokes that are spawned from it. But does that tell us what a meme is? Not quite. So what is a meme? Well… it’s an in-joke. Everyone has some. If you have a group of people who are together (and they don’t even have to be friends), it’s natural they’ll come up with jokes that make sense within the group but not outside of it. For example: At Disney, telling someone to “have a magical day” was code for “go @#$^ yourself”, at least among a few of us. That’s what you told someone if you were annoyed at them. It was a joke that existed among us, that only we who were working there got. To those we said it to, they didn’t see that it was a joke. Over time variations evolved off of it, jokes were made in relation to this joke, but the original joke stayed. However, it’s come to the point where it’s no longer an in-joke since everyone knows about it. It’s on the internet if you know where to look. But how does this relate to memes? Well, memes are much the same. They are jokes that are made and spread on the internet, rather than between a group of friends. And since we’re all connected to the internet (indeed, you’d be unable to read this if it wasn’t for the internet), we all share that same joke. So a meme is merely an in-joke seen by many and retold countless times in new and interesting ways. And as such, The Dress certainly is one of them.

So there you have it. A look at The Dress and memes as a whole. If you disagree with anything, or you have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

(Also, to note: If your comment is somewhere along the lines of “I don’t see why this is such a big deal”, it is by you saying that that makes it such a big deal. By bringing attention to the attention surrounding it, you are the one bringing attention to it. It is a big deal because of your actions. If everyone had said nothing instead of wondering why it was getting a reaction, it’d have gotten no reaction at all).

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