Memes in Digital Culture

Limor Shifman

Published by

MIT Press





Reviewed by

Dean Burnell MBCS CITP


10 out of 10

This book aims to explain and explore the obscure concept of the meme, and to attempt to consider their form, characteristics and function as a key aspect of modern internet culture.

The author attributes the original definition of the term to Richard Dawkins, who described them as ‘units of cultural transmission, analogous to genes, that spread from person to person by copying or imitation’. Examples quoted in his original essay include melodies, catchphrases and clothing fashions.

This short (and well presented) book is divided into 10 clear and very readable chapters, including an overview of the origins of the term, description of original (pre-internet) examples of memes, a discussion of the characteristics that memes share with other forms of viral content and a proposition regarding what make them unique.

The author applies admirable rigour to the question of what appears to make memes successful, drawing on evidence from popular websites (YouTube, 4chan, Tumblr, Reddit to name a few).

Throughout the book there are explorations of examples of cultural internet phenomenon that the reader may already be aware of, for example ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Leave Britney alone’ and the ‘Pepper-Spraying Cop’, prompting the reader to view them in a new way.

Towards the end of the book the author provides an overview of the way in which memes have become part of the political campaigning process, and how this has developed to serve as a new way for the younger generations to engage in political discourse.

This is a thoroughly engaging book that is both pragmatic in its approach and introduced with significant academic rigour. An excellent choice for anyone who has an interest in (or is puzzled by!) the ever-evolving field of popular internet culture.

Further information: MIT Press

October 2013