The Meme is the Message

The meme is the message so make your own and share your media studies messages with social stickiness.

Critical concepts: media, messages, memes.
Creative task: make a meme about media.
Author: Dr Jodie Taylor, SAE Creative Media Institute.

The Medium is the Message

In the corresponding online lesson, we learnt that media and the messages conveyed by media can have a variety of effects on individuals, audiences, societies and cultures more broadly. And according to Marshall McLuhan the most important message is the medium itself because its impact on how we behave reaches wider than the impact of any mediated content.

“The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). In this book, McLuhan examines the impact of media on societies and human relations, arguing for the primacy of the medium – understood broadly as any “extension of man” – over overt content. According to McLuhan, each medium has a specific logic and nature, which embeds itself in the content. The medium itself has more fundamental and long-lasting effects than the more overt content to which people direct their attention. Consequently, the dominant medium of a particular age and place, like print, radio or television, profoundly affects human relations.

With that in mind, what do you think the meme say about this age?

The Message is the Meme

The term “meme” was coined by the famous biologist, Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Towards the end of this popular read, Dawkins introduced the idea of a social or cultural “gene” that would carry information about cultural artefacts from one brain to another, much as biological genes carry information about the physical structure of an organism from one body to another. Dawkins termed this hypothetical cultural gene, a “meme”, citing catchy tunes or political ideologies that move from one host—a human brain—to another, much like the spread of a contagious disease. If something goes viral, it becomes a meme.

If you want another perspective on this idea, check out what Monsoon from Metal Gear Rising has to say about memes. Start watching at 1.30 and watch until 2.52.

Memes are intended for repeated use by mass audiences, and as a result, they have become a tool for preserving an idea through replication. They are self-reflexive, self-conscious, and part of our collective social experience and allow us to communicate and critique the culture we live in. That said, memes are often absurd or trivial and contain knowledge that other media archives may have discarded or dismissed. Memes are often critical, even while being silly and sarcastic, ironic, sardonic humour is common.

Memes must inspire some form of positive response and be worthy of reproduction in order to appreciated and shared and are just one example of how people use the internet to contribute ideas to the larger public sphere. Memes are a form of active participation in digital communication. And the content of this communication is not determined by the form, for they can prompt us to questions existing power structures (e.g. Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) or make us laugh and prompt us to forward the content onto our friends (e.g. Grumpy Cat). Either way, it is the act of sharing that gives the meme its significance.

Like Marshall McLuhan’s catchphrase “the medium is the message,” a meme is also a message. The message we tend to focus on is the one we decode from the assemblage of text and images, but the more significant message is the internet, which provides users with the ability to share.

Of course this is one of many perspectives on the meaning and value of memes. And in the interest of acknowledging multiple viewpoints, the following link will take you to a fabulous article which posits a different argument.

Make a Meme about Media Studies


Understanding what a meme is saying requires us to identify the rhetorical sarcasm in the image and this calls for a particular linguistic and social dexterity. And if we want our memes to have social stickiness we need to be media savvy, contemporary, critical, poetic, visually and textually literate, and a little bit funny.

So… with that in mind, your task is to create a meme about media studies, like the ones on the cover image for this lecture.

Below you will find a selection of links to meme generators. These are free and easy to use. All you need to do is select and image from their databases and write some accompanying text. Simply follow the instructions online and you can’t go wrong.

Alternatively, you can always select and image via a quick Google image search and generate some text yourself. Here’s an example of one I created in under 5 minutes. All I did was copy and paste this image, which I found via a Google search, into Powerpoint and added some text.


When you’ve completed your meme, make sure you add it to the CIU 210 class Pinterest board. Click here to add yours and see what your class mates have created.

Meme Generator Tools

Meme Generator | Create Your Own Meme

Memecrunch: The best meme generator | Popular