A good meme takes a snippet of something and makes it funnier or more interesting out-of-context.
Like television shows, I prefer the trashy, funny ones. What I can’t really stand are the memes that take themselves too seriously. Something “deep” like a moody black and white photo with a long quote laid over it. I often look up the original context for the quote and find the quote is either: a) fake b) wrongly attributed c) sliced up to make it more palatable. Worst of all, the meme is very rarely as funny or interesting as the original context.
Take the Bob Dylan quote above. Here’s the original 1991 interview. Dylan was asked if he was more happier at 50 than 30:
“Oh, man, I’ve never even thought about that,” Dylan said, laughing. “Happiness is not on my list of priorities. I just deal with day-to-day things. If I’m happy, I’m happy – and if I’m not, I don’t know the difference.” He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. “You know,” he said, “these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed. As the Bible says, ‘Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’ Now, that must be a happy man. Knowing that you are the person you were put on this earth to be – that’s much more important than just being happy.
Emphasis mine. The meme maker, in this case, cut out the most interesting part of the quote, the part with actual tooth (“yuppie words”!) that separates it from being a Hallmark sentiment.
This Patti Smith meme was of particular interest to me, as I used the first part in the “Build a Good (Domain) Name” section of my book, Show Your Work! The text is actually “correct” — Smith did say all those words — but the “life is like a roller coaster” cliché comes later in the speech.
What the meme doesn’t tell you is that Smith got the advice from William S. Burroughs — not the first name you think of associated with the word “clean”:
When I was in my early twenties, I was lucky to have William Burroughs as a friend and mentor. Once I was with him and I asked him this question: “What should I aspire to?” and he thought, and he said: “My dear, a gold American Express would be good.” But after that, he said very thoughtfully, “Build your name.” And I said, “William, my name is Smith.” And he said, “Well, you’ll have to build a little harder.” But what William meant when he told me to build my name. Build a good name — because a name is not to get famous. He wasn’t talking about celebrity — he was talking about let your name radiate your self, magnify who you are, your good deeds, your code of honor. Build your name and as you go through life, your name will serve you.
At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I encourage people — especially young people — to do “a 30-second fact check” on self-serious memes like this.
Good net citizens:
- Source-check what they share
- Share from the best source possible
- Provide source/claim context to people they share with when necessary
It takes almost no time at all: just put quotation marks around a distinctive part of the text and enter it into a search box. You’ll learn more a lot more from looking up the source of these memes than you will from the memes themselves.