Meme of the Year Part I: What's a Meme?

Memes are something that have been around since the beginnings of communication. Although they were only recently conceived and defined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomenon.


A  meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. It identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The word is a blend of "gene" and the Greek word mimetismos meaning "something imitated".

The name comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information. Early memes were likely used to communicate the presence of predators or the need for food among early life on Earth. Examples of memes include melodies, catch-phrases, fashion and urban legends.


The term Internet Meme is used to describe a concept or meme that spreads via the internet. They have taken the digital world by storm and 2010 has definitely been the year of the internet meme. Some people refer to memes as viral videos or image macros. Many are born from a site called 4chan. The success formula of viral videos has often been said to be WTF, OMG and LOL. Try to make people say "What the F?", "Oh My God!", and get them to "Laugh Out Loud".
by: Christopher Harrison used under Creative Commons.
The first meme of the year, Double Rainbow, was created by a regular person using simple equipment and it makes people say all three: OMG, WTF and LOL. Double Rainbow is a video recorded by an interesting american known as Bear in Yellowstone National Park as he awoke one morning while camping to see a Double Rainbow 'all the way across the sky'.

Indeed the two rainbows can be seen to have spread across the sky and represent a rare occurrence. Although not something totally unheard of (as seen by the photo above from a search on Flickr). The video below tells the story of how Jimmy Kimmel's viewing and tweeting of the video helped it go from 800 views having being online for 6 months to a whopping 23 million views in the next 6 months. On January 9th the original video will have been online for one year.



This is part one. Click for part two.


What made this video go viral was a combination of the man's reaction and the discovery of the video by the Jimmy Kimmel Show. What makes this video's rise to fame most interesting is that until it was picked up and tweeted by Jimmy Kimmel it was unheard of. What happened over the next few months few expected and none could have predicted...
note the flatline initially
The timeline of what became of the three minute video is even more interesting. Double Rainbow become a song on iTunes that has sold more than 300,000 copies, probably more by now. The song was created at the right time and has nearly 20 million views compared to 23 million on the original video.

The Double Rainbow guy (affectionately known as "Bear" or "HungryBear9562" his YouTube channel name) has since appeared on television for interviews and a commercial for one windows product and another. He also has his own iPhone App complete with an ad; a lark which for a dollar will overlay a double rainbow on any photo you take. This meme birthed so many different products, but most of all showed that for a video on the web to truly hit the big time it needs help from the mainstream media.

This is my personal favourite riff on the meme partly because I have a soft spot for 'sandwiches' made entirely from breaded deep fried chicken, bacon and cheese but also because someone replicated the original video in such great juxtaposition to fast food:


See you soon for Part II of Meme of the year.

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