If just for a moment, we celebrated New Year as the start of a clean slate. We popped our champagne bottles and firecrackers open to recognize the coming of a new decade, celebrating that nothing could be worse than 2019. What could possibly go wrong? We found out less than a week in: A U.S airstrike in Iraq killed Iranian Force commander Quassim Suleimani, bringing with it a jarring shift in our political climate.
Naturally, we made memes. Lots and lots of memes. So many memes that #WorldWarIII was trending on the world’s most popular social media sites, including Twitter and TikTok. Funnily enough, the way we reacted to the first major event of the decade showed us the society we have evolved into.
In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme,” describing it as the spread of ideas through culture in his book The Selfish Gene. In essence, his definition still holds true to modern-day memes, but their purpose has evolved far beyond merely being a way to discuss evolutionary principles in the scientific field. We saw this just last week as millions of people used Tiktok duos and Twitter tweets as a way of transforming a worrying development into something admittedly pretty hilarious, or as a coping mechanism, or as a way to spread information, or even as a way to spread disinformation.
The world came together to talk about World War III, an entirely fictional event that was nonetheless present on everybody’s minds, because there was mass-communication infrastructure available at their fingertips–literally. This is an effect of the information age. We have all become so accustomed to sharing our thoughts on the internet that it has become our immediate reaction to virtually any significant event.
So next time you’re swiping through videos of people dancing to Lottery by K Camp (aka the renegade renegade renegade renegade song), don’t forget that you’re a part of this new era of social interaction, one that was created with the power of memes (and god and anime) on our side.