All the world is a meme. So what are the most outstanding for 2011? The lists are already rolling in. There is a list of Best Memes (as in “best pizza”), Top News Memes (informed directly by the “Best Memes” list), Top Twitter Hashtags, Most Shared Stories on Facebook, Top Google Insights, you name it.
To add to the lot, I decided to broaden the perspective beyond a US-centric outlook while narrowing my focus, for which I here present, THE GREATEST BIGGEST MOST IMPORTANT FURTHEST REACHING MEMES OF 2011.
THE MOST IMPORTANT MEME OF 2011
Undoubtably, the single most important meme of the year got it’s start one morning almost exactly a year ago, on December 17th, 2010. A young man, stuck in a faltering social and political system, managing to just get by as a fruit vendor, simply could not take it anymore. Mohamed Bouazizi was a well-liked 26 years old who supported a family of eight and was known to regularly give away free fruit and vegetables from his street wheelbarrow, though he did not make enough for authorities who regularly harassed him for bribes.
Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again claiming he did not have a vendor’s permit, even though a permit is not required to sell from a cart. After arguing with a policewoman, she slapped Bouazizi in the face, kicked over his cart, made a slur about his deceased father and then confiscated his scales.
After refusal to be heard or seen by the courts, unable to regain his scales, Bouazizi obtained a can of gasoline from a nearby station, stood in the middle of traffic before the Governor’s office, shouted “How do you expect me to make a living!?” and then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.
The city was Sidi Bouzid in Tunsinia and the people were enraged. Protests began taking place within hours and continued to grow every day. After Boiazizi passed away on January 4th, the protests swelled to an all-out revolution leading President Ben Ali to finally flee Tunisia for his own life on January 14th, overthrown.
Inspired by the success of the revolution in Tunisia, a protest against poor living conditions began in Bayda, Libya on the same day, January 14th, triggering a violent reaction from the police, subsequent anti-Gaddafi protests throughout the country and by October, an overthrown government.
In Egypt, anti-government protests began on January 25th and Mubarak was overthrown by February.
The list of revolutions in countries throughout the region carries on, inciting dramatic, rapid change. Some solute Facebook. Some solute the internet in general. To many the idea is as old as Democracy. Whatever we have witnessed this year with the Arab Spring, it’s tied into the idea of Freedom, which is an idea as old as any, perhaps the most powerful meme in all of humanity.
THE FURTHEST REACHING MEME OF 2011
The Death of Bin Laden was probably the furthest reaching news story on the planet. "Pssst, did you hear!? Bin Laden is dead!“ "OMG, REALLY? Hey, did you hear?” “Yeah, Bin Laden, amazing.” This event is named for being the most likely news story to reach the furthest expanses of the entire Earth. Think beyond Google and Twitter. Beyond Michael Jackson. Imagine the person in a small village in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the website), the practically uncontacted tribe member. If they get any news about the world at all, they might at least know about a “massive tribe” (that which we call America) and it’s “enemy”. People throughout the most remote regions on Earth this year, so many still without adequate food and water, let alone without an ipod, were probably more likely to hear about the death of Bin Laden above and beyond any other international story. If you can remember the moment you heard the news, you probably couldnt help but turn to anyone around you to share.
This meme had the most epic, historical topic of war, which humans in all cultures can relate to. And it was a headline ten years in the making. A single man against the most powerful factions of the world. We were so ready for this news, we didn’t even need to see the evidence, we left it up these folks who saw the pictures for us:
This reaction-image of the US’s top brass in the “Situation Room” viewing the evidence of Bin Laden’s Death became a notable lol-meme in-and-of-itself though the image’s reach, even with all the fun that was had (see that video game controller shooped over Obama?), is no where near the reach of the simple idea itself that Bin Laden is dead and gone.
Considering how quickly news does spread in this day and age (i.e. a lot faster than any time before us), I would not be surprised if the news of Bin Ladens’ death reached more people, more quickly, than any news event EVER in the history of Humanity.
THE GREATEST HUMAN MEME OF 2011
Though far reaching with his life and death, Bin Laden was a terrible man and does not get to be the Greatest Human Meme of 2011, IMHO; uninspiring, off-base, horrible, disturbing and doing it wrong. This is nothing of an idea for a human, compared to the ideas of inspiration and greatness fathomed in the collective reflection of the life and work of Steve Jobs. He’s that guy. The man who pushed the world ahead so far, so quickly. He pushed us through the beginning of the information age with personal computers, he spearheaded the digital music and film industries, his products helped the most in enabling and inspiring personal publishing, he reinvented the telephone, tablet computing, and you know, what not.
On Jobs’ battle with cancer, MG Siegler points out the importance of his age and contributions in considering this profound, memetic aspect of his death:
But it didn’t just rob Jobs. It robbed us too. That’s why people who haven’t met the man care so deeply. Not only is his early death a sad story, it takes away a man who will go down as one of the greatest innovators of not only our time, but of any time. And while you could certainly argue that someone like Michael Jackson contributed great art to the world — he did — he hadn’t done anything significant in nearly 20 years at the time of this death. Steve Jobs was in his prime when it came to his trade, when he passed away.“
The news of Steve Jobs’ death was a story that spread incredibly far and deep, transcending everything we have seen in the past with technological fame. What other person from the computer industry has been thought of as much, with so much appreciation, all at once? Referring to the intense outpouring of emotion surrounding Jobs’ death, Siegler went on to note:
This type of global unity tends to happen when a major celebrity passes away — think: Michael Jackson — because nearly everyone on the planet knows who they are. People always look for common bonds, and those are easy ones to establish. That’s because pop culture shoves them in our faces for years if not decades. And the type of fame they achieve goes hand-in-hand with celebrity.
But Steve Jobs was not a celebrity — at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, he was famous, but he did not seek fame. Nor did he need it. The main goal of his career was not to sell his image. He was the head of a company…Jobs is the first truly transformative figure to die in an age of transformative technology. He’s someone who will be talked about a thousand years from now. And the fact that he was transformative in technology just compounds the reactions to his death right now.
President Obama on the Passing of Steve Jobs: "He changed the way each of is sees the world” [link]
Larry Page: “Im very sad to hear the news about Steve.” [link]
Mark Zuckerberg: “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.” [link]
Bill Gates: Remembering Steve Jobs [link]
THE MOST ABSURD MEME OF 2011
The tune is so good, and the idea is so bright, Nyan Nyan Cat. Much like a smile, or a war, people on the internet everywhere – people who have seen things – can understand the absurdity of our lives, all together, all at once with Nyan Nyan Cat. My favorite version is the 10 hour long video which boasts over 8 million views alone. See also: Nyan Nyan Cat Man. HONORABLE MENTION for Most Absurd Meme of 2011 (US Version) goes to Charlie Sheen for bringing down boundaries between the fanatic celebrity-ism pop culture world and the real-world as we know it, on Twitter.
Beyond Twitter, Nyan Nyan Cat has been seen by many more people this year, and it’s amazing how many people across the world have participated in the joy and extreme absurdity of this comic meme.