Some people consider absurdist internet humor as a unique artistic movement. It has many similarities with Neo-Dadaism, an artistic movement from 1960s, and that’s why some people talk about resurgence of Neo-Dadaism. So, what are the similarities between Neo-Dadaism and internet memes that we see everyday?
When we think of Neo-Dadaism, we think of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns, who were both a bit controversial. They did not hesitate to play around with popular culture and to use irony. Neo-Dadaism has similarities with Dadaism, one of the avant-garde movements from the beginning of the 20th century. The aim of this movement was to challenge what was considered art at the time. It’s objective was to cause a strong reaction.
Most art movements are born as a reaction to the society and the world we live in. Dadaism was a reaction to the world and system that simply did not make sense anymore. It was a reaction to World War I and capitalism. The artists have probably thought something like: If world as we know it doesn’t make sense anymore, then why should art make sense?
That’s what makes absurdist internet humor similar to Dadaism. They both reject aesthetics of capitalism, and they do it in their unique way. They also deal with pointlessness of our existence. The only difference is that Dadaism was criticizing the physical world, while internet humor is more focused on the new world, the world of the internet. The world of the internet can be as dark as real life world, if not even darker. Young generations are using memes as a way to deal with modern society and absurd things they are seeing every day. They are using black humor to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with reality. But it also helps them feel better. They might still feel hopeless, but memes serve as a relief, comfort. At least they give them a reason to laugh in the face of the absurd, crazy world, that they can not change.
Absurdist internet humor has the aim to criticize the online society and it makes a parody of it. This kind of humor contains a lot of references, so people who are not that active online may struggle to understand it. Young people love memes that reference other memes. Recognizing the reference means being part of the same culture or subculture. Memes have one very important characteristic – constant regeneration. One meme can be a source of many other new memes, that are sometimes called sub-memes.
Content creators often use characters from popular TV shows or cartoons, that everyone can recognize even if they didn’t watch the show. Cartoon characters are a good material because they already have a certain degree of absurdity. When we pull them out of context and add our text, they become even more absurd. That’s basically the essence of absurdist internet humor: its creators use images that are already well-known and slightly absurd in order to create something even more absurd.
A great example of abstract meme is a so called Galaxy Brain Meme. You have probably seen it many times, in different situations. The aim of this meme is to visually and gradually compare an established cultural scale with new concepts. This meme is an example of format without strict rules. It has empty space where the author can write whatever he wants, he can even make references to the other memes. There is only one rule: as galaxy brain expands, its comparisons on the left should become more and more abstract. Many people believe that this meme perfectly illustrates our society and today’s world.
There is one another similarity between memes or tweets and Dadaism. We tend to remember memes, but not the names of the accounts who posted them (unless we are already following that account). In that sense, memes are close to Dadaist rejection of authorship, where piece of art becomes more important than its author.
The Internet creates a certain distance between the author and consumer, which encourages authors to create dark humor jokes. It is easier to put some things online, but we would think twice about whether we would say them aloud during family dinner. However, part of the author’s pleasure is knowing that not everyone will understand its meme or its humor. When it comes to memes, there are two types of people: those who understand them and those who simply don’t get them. Sometimes it is just a generational gap, because young generations have grown up with this absurd language and they are used to it. However, many of them lack critical skills, due to inexperience, which can be dangerous.
Internet humor is strongly influenced by the way we consume it. And we usually consume it through social media platforms, mostly Twitter. Content has never been more accessible than today. We scroll our social media so quickly, waiting for something that will catch our attention and make us stop. Twitter posts are made with the aim to generate a reaction. Some of them want to make you feel uncomfortable or angry, others make you laugh even though it is a bitter laugh.
Although there are many similarities between internet absurd humor and Dadaism or Neo-Dadaism it would be wrong to say that internet humor is a form of Dadaism. Its biggest similarities are use of irony, rejection of traditional aesthetics and logic as well as generating strong reactions.
However, internet humor is a movement of its own. It may sound strange to define memes a movement, but every period has its own ways of artistic expression. Remember that when Dadaism and Neo-Dadaism first appeared they were laughed at and traditional society was struggling to consider them art movements. Dada art made little or no sense at the beginning. But with time people realized that it was a unique expression of that specific period of time. That’s why memes can be considered a reflection of today’s society. I won’t be surprised to hear that future generations are using memes during history class in order to understand what did society look like at the beginning of the 21st century.