Memes Before Internet

What qualifies a meme?

From dead gorillas to loveable undecided voters, memes are a part of popular internet culture. In fact, when people think of the word “meme,” they immediately associate it with the word “internet.” This brings up the question: did memes exist before the internet (or at least before the internet was accessible to everyone)?

Illustrator: Helen Teague

Illustrator: Helen Teague

The answer is yes. Granted, while people didn’t readily use the term meme, the idea of memes still persisted through popular sayings, pictures, or even songs. One of the most recognizable of these memes are with dance crazes or dance songs. We have had songs like “Gangnam Style” or “The Harlem Shake” gain popularity through the internet, but that doesn’t mean viral songs were nonexistent before the internet was readily accessible. Take “The Macarena” for example. Back in the late ‘90s, the dance and the song were nearly inescapable, and all it took was radio success, word of mouth, and being played at wedding ceremonies and dance clubs throughout the world.

One of the most recognizable memes before the internet was “Wazzup,” which originated from a Budweiser commercial in December of 1999 and became the go-to greeting for drunk frat guys for the next three years. Even now, the phrase is still recognized, even if it is hilariously out of date.

Back in the late ‘90s, the dance and the song were nearly inescapable, and all it took was radio success, word of mouth, and being played at wedding ceremonies and dance clubs throughout the world.

Image memes even existed before the accessibility of the internet as well. The most memorable out of these are Che Guevara and “Andre the Giant Has a Posse.” Argentina Marxist Che Guevara was known for his role in the Cuban Revolution and his famous photo called the “Guerrillero Heroico”, which is now known for being the man on the T-shirt of that guy that tries way too hard to be edgy. The “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” meme was originally a poster to promote heavyweight wrestler Andre the Giant through a badly drawn pastel portrait. If you’ve seen a picture/poster lately of a strange face with shadowed eyes with the word “OBEY” under it, then you’ve seen “Andre the Giant Has a Posse”.

Memes are often used to encompass what is popular within a certain group of people, and with the internet, memes are even more widely recognized and accepted. While memes were pretty downplayed in the past, they have certainly evolved over the years as well as constantly shifting, meaning the internet culture can truly never get enough meme-y goodness.