From Memes to the Death of Comedy… Well, that escalated quickly

Over the last ten years the internet has helped make everything more personalised. I can create my own t-shirt on Café Press, build my own outfit on Next, or even design my own trainers on Nike. Of course, I’d never actually do any of those things because I’m not a complete and total tit.

Thanks to this personalised content, the internet knows exactly what I want. Unless what I want is cheap clothes which don’t make a ‘bold statement’ about how individual I am. Then I’m pretty much screwed.

Yes it’s a breath of fresh air …cold, unfeeling, mechanical air.

Still, the only problem with personalisation is that it actually leads to greater homogenisation and ultimately standardisation. I can personalise my credit card!!! ….as long as I bank with Barclays. Obviously I don’t want to bank with Barclays as their student accounts are ridiculous. But hey, personalised credit cards!!!

Standardisation is actually becoming pretty common online. With so many potential options to select from, most users just default to the most middle of the road choice. As a result, brands are forced to become as average as possible, ironically, to ensure that they stand out.

But it’s not just products which are suffering from this trend. Internet standardisation has now started to spread into cultural concepts and even basic human emotions. Take comedy for example, the internet has developed what can only be described as a ‘template’ for humour; a template broadly known as ‘memes’.

Memes are editable and highly sharable snippets of humour, usually in the form of a common image overlaid with white ‘Impact’ text. These standardised templates allow people to add their own captions which represent generally relatable situations. Some examples include paranoia (The Paranoid Parrot), social awkwardness (The Socially Awkward Penguin), and pretty much any other symptom of the human condition which can be reduced to a feedline/punchline format.

The problem with this growing phenomenon is that it allows everyone to see themselves as “a bit of a comedian”, using memes as essentially a set formula for humour.

Prior to the internet age, jokes were developed through two core events: a feedline, and a punchline. The feedline was established by an examination of the environment (the situation within which humour was derived). Then, a punchline could be developed spontaneously through a basic application of wit.

Now though, the feedline is selected from a drop down list and the punchline is pre-prepared. Say for instance someone has rapidly lost their temper; simply add the phrase “well, that escalated quickly” and suddenly you’re as hilarious as the most finely rehearsed comedian! …Well, at least as funny as Harry Hill anyway.

Such formulaic humour could most accurately be called ‘Ready Meal Comedy’. A mass produced, lukewarm, horse-meat lasagne; readily available but with no real sustenance or nutrition. …Delicious.

The worst part of all this, is that much like real junk food, internet memes are highly addictive. Personally I can spend hours staring into the never-ending scrolls of Memebase and 9GAG, desperate in the hope that I might actually find something funny.

For some, standardised memes may be a great source of comfort. Taking solace in the fact that everywhere in the world people are suffering the same paranoia, social awkwardness and ‘first world problems’ as the likes of you and me. It’s almost majestic; the idea that every human being can be connected in laughter by the most basic shared experiences.

For me though, it’s just depressing. Everything you say, think, or do has been done by someone else. Your whole life can be neatly slotted into a template of human behaviour. Your sense of humour, your jokes, your emotions, everything. It’s all just one big Ikea flatpack.

What a happy thought! …Well, I better go log onto 9Gag to cheer myself up.

Alex Warren
Alex Warren
Miserablist, whiskey-drinker, and general tinpot shambles. Alex Warren has a weary pessimism for all things media, politics and tech.