Memes are everywhere. Easily sharable on any social media platform, and instantly remixable with little technical effort, they have become visual vehicles to share our thoughts with the outside world.
But where do they come from?
That’s where KnowYourMeme comes in, a sort of Wikipedia for memes that covers a meme’s journey from inception to viral hit, along with its inevitable decline, and in some cases, its crossover into popular culture.
Here are the origin stories behind 7 of the most widely shared memes on the internet.
A meme so ubquidious that its origin was explained in a long-form Vanity Fair article, the viral phenom started innocently enough. Maggie Goldenberger, the 'ermehgerd' girl had the picture taken while her and her friends took turns dressing up in the most ridiculous clothes they could find while striking funny faces and poses. These images were eventually scanned and uploaded to Facebook, where the Reddit user xWavy randomly came across it. xWavy posted it on Reddit, where the initial thread titled 'BERKS' received over 17,000 upvotes.
Although term 'philosoraptor' can be traced back to a forum post created back in 1998, the popularised visual of the portmandeau was created in 2008. The image was created by Sam Smith as a t-shirt design for the website LonelyDinosaur. The spread of the Philosoraptor is an product of good timing, the image became popular just as memegenerator.com launched, letting people add their own text without any image editing programs.
The digitally outlined image of Tyson, typically associated with the phrase: 'Watch out guys, we're dealing with a ba***s over here,' was created because of a reaction Tyson gave in a video praising Isaac Newton in 2011. The reaction was turned into a GIF, which was posted by Reddit user Hippopoptimus_Prime in the r/trees subreddit. The drawn image was created by Reddit user Onlyhereforthelaughs, which was posted in the /r/f7u12 subreddit, where it was seen by Redditer fairlydeadfellow who provided the associated caption.
While many memes start as forum posts, conspiracy Keanu was created by Dan Klois, who published the article 'Vulture's complete field guide to the facial expressions of Keanu Reeves.' The breakout image was a still from the 1989 film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which eventually made it's forum debut in 201o on the Fark forums. In 2011 it made its way to Reddit's r/funny subreddit, this time with the caption: 'What if all the specs we see in the light / are all miniature unvierses?'
Like conspiracy Keanu, the overly attacked girlfriend is a still from a video, this time by YouTube user wzr0713 in 2012. The video itself -- a creepy parody of Justin Bieber's song Boyfriend -- went viral, but the way she stared at the camera was what prompted Reddit user yeahhtoast to create a forum thread.
The meme took on a life of its own, with a Twitter account created specifically to tweet the best captions. While most memes are a flash in the pan, the 'overly attached girlfriend' aka Laina Morris posted a follow up video parodying Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' to similar acclaim.
In August 2007 Laney Griner took a picture of her son Sammy and uploaded it to her personal Flickr account and GettyImages. The picture began to make the rounds on MySpace but became popular after a it became available on Pyzam.com, with a picture of a child making a sandcastle in the background.
Reddit picked up on the meme in January of 2011, at which point the image was accessible on Quickmeme.com, making it easy to circulate.
Eight years after the original image was taken, Sammy's father needed a kidney transplant and so Laney asked the internet to chip in on an Indiegogo campaign. The campaign succeeded, showing the power of memes.
Originally a stock image taken at the 2009 Schoolies festival in Queensland Australia, the image went unnoticed for over two years, until it was unearthed by Redditer NorthernSkeptic. The photo was posted with the caption ''Oh my God / dubstep sucks' and was popular enough to become one of the top post on the r/AdviceAnimals subreddit. Since its popularity spike in 2011, two people have come forth claiming to be the real Clarence, however neither have been definitely identified.