Memes as Folklore?

There have been plenty of people bemoaning the so-called “death of folklore”. And in a way, it seems true. In our modern age, things like traditional folk songs or folk architecture aren’t as popular anymore. However, this does not mean that folklore is dying out completely. Like language, folklore is changing with the times. One way that this is happening is through the emergence of internet memes.

Of course, memes in general aren’t exactly a new occurrence. Oxford Dictionaries defines a meme as: “An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.” (“Meme”). This is clearly a concept that predates the internet. In fact one place where a pre-internet meme can be found is medieval manuscripts. A recurring image in them is of a knight  fighting a snail.

The meaning of this image has been lost to time, and there is plenty of speculation from historians on what the snail is supposed to represent. Some say it’s social commentary; others say it’s just meant to be a comical picture. Since people today are not a member of the folk group which would understand what the image means, it is baffling to them.

Memes are circulated in certain folk groups or demographics, and often reflect the culture or values of the folk group. Like the snail above, they often don’t make sense to those outside of the folk group, such as memes like this:muslim meme or these:


Someone who is not familiar with the stories or culture wouldn’t understand why these memes are funny.

And when people who aren’t a member of the folk group try to use memes, they are usually met with derision. This is because they often don’t understand what made the meme funny in the first place. Corporations will use memes in their marketing strategies, capitalizing on all manner of slang terms to seem relatable to the youth.


The youth, for their part, generally think of these efforts as cringe-worthy. corporate meme reaction 2Politicians use them too, in an attempt to score votes.

They are ridiculed because they are trying to gain access to a folk group they are not a part of. People often see it for what it is: a transparent attempt to relate to the younger generation for their own gain.



Works Cited

Biddle, Sam. “Corporations’ Sad Attempts at Using Memes: Death Is Too Good for Us.” Gawker, 23 Jan. 2015, 4:30 pm,

“Meme.” Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford                                                      Dictionaries. Accessed 8 May 2018.

Schultz, Colin. “Why Were Medieval Knights Always Fighting Snails?”,            Smithsonian Institution, 14 Oct. 2013,            were-medieval-knights-always-fighting-snails-1728888/.

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