I’ve been a long-time student of Internet memes, and I enjoy posting them to J-List’s Twitter and Facebook pages when I encounter some amusing ones. Memes, of course, are “units of culture” (ideas, beliefs, dancing CGI babies, what have you) that evolve and change as they move from person to person, and ever since the “All Your Base are Belong To Us” Internet event of 2000, they’ve been a big source of entertainment and occasional enlightenment for people online. I’ve always been intrigued by the barriers between different areas of the web, which keep most memes from crossing over freely between, say, the U.S. and Japan, ensuring that Japanese will know a lot about cute ASCII art but very little about LOLcats, for example. Often the barriers are linguistic in nature — you’re more likely to know the “over 9000” line from Dragonball Z than a Japanese person is because it’s only in the English dub, while Japanese fans will quote famous Gundam lines like Kamille’s, “You wouldn’t have gotten shot down if you hadn’t come out and tried to do battle with me!” that never entered our shared consciousness. But there are often “bridges” between the two worlds, for example the videos of box-loving Japanese cat Maru with English subtitles, and websites like 4chan that actively embrace Japanese memes involving Yukkuri or Yotsubato or Giga Pudding. It’s still puzzling how some memes never make the jump from one side to the other — most web users in the West aren’t aware of Konata’s “a flat chest is a status symbol” meme — while others, such as the legendary “Yaranaika?” man, or those silly “celebrities with tiny faces” images, are able to make the crossing more easily. One cross-cultural meme I’ve always wondered about was Bob Ross, painter of so many “happy trees,” who is quite a famous meme here in Japan. It turns his Bob’s classic Joy of Painting lessons were broadcast by a late-night Osaka-based variety program called Tantei! Knight Scoop, and his current popularity in Pixiv fanart flows from that show.
It’s fun to analyze how some memes flow easy through different cultures while others don’t.