Meme Culture and The Rise of Viral Satire

Meme Culture and The Rise of Viral Satire

In 2016, it was hard to ignore the vast usage of emojis by the fashion industry. From the Versace Medusa crown emojis to Kim Kardashian’s ‘Kimojis’, the whole craze became slightly overwhelming. However, as social media trends continue to dominate, focus has shifted from emojis to memes. The industry is so invested in taking itself seriously that sometimes it’s a relief to add a little humour.

A meme, as coined by Richard Dawkins, is “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. Memes allow symbols and social ideas regarding current affairs to be communicated with a comical twist. They’ve become so vastly recognised that ‘meme culture’ has arose as a result; a subculture residing on the internet acting as satirical social commentary that is virally transmitted. It’s undeniable that most of us would consider ourselves ‘digital natives’ and that’s what’s so brilliant about memes. Anyone with access to a digital device generally has the ability to create one.

Meme culture has recently become synonymous with commentary regarding politics. Throughout Obama’s presidency, memes were evident across social media and they tended to scale towards a positive portrayal of the president. However, following Donald Trump’s election, production of negative political memes have escalated. As memes are a transference of social commentary, it’s probable that this leads to transference of society mocking politics as a whole. The politics industry is one of the main influential sectors of public opinion, as is the fashion industry. Both have been targeted by memes, but the politics industry has been hit most heavily. The fashion industry has managed to take action before memes become more popular than the brands themselves.

Many individuals are viewing the fashion’s use of memes as re-appropriation of an internet subculture. In some ways it is arguable that this re-appropriation is capitalism cashing in on a viral phenomenon. The reasoning behind this idea is that conceptually, those who create memes are not extravagantly affluent. Therefore the individuals satirically commenting on the fashion industry are unable to afford the extreme extravagance of designer items. For this reason, previous fashion-orientated memes were satirical mocking of the materialistic nature of the industry.

Let’s take into account the recent emergence of ‘Gucci Memes.’ A question resides here: are Gucci throwing themselves into a culture they don’t fully understand? Memes were created and nurtured by the youth. Should a high-end brand that create clothes that most people could only dream of affording be capitalising on a millennial subculture?

It’s arguable that Alessandro Michele’s ascension to become the new creative director of Gucci is a way for the high-end brand to reduce the distance between the consumer and the label. He was initially a relatively unknown creative, rising from the brand’s accessory department. Michele has taken the fashion house in a new direction, creating ready-to-wear collections and undeniably taking the initiative to connect to a younger consumer market. In light of millennial consumers’ pivotal obsession with social media, it’s logical that he took to these platforms to gain inspiration. The emergence of the ‘Gucci Meme’ is an obvious result of social media as a source of inspiration. And you’ve got to admit, it’s particularly clever as it penetrates straight into the consumer’s main communication channels.

Although meme advocates are protective of their subculture, it’s worth remembering the initial concept behind them: a way of spreading ideas and images. Even if the fashion industry is re- appropriating memes, a meme pre-exists as re-appropriated content; content taken out of its context for comical effect. In this way, Gucci haven’t changed the nature of the concept as a culture form. In fact, it could be argued that the popularity of the Jared Leto Gucci meme influenced the brand with this marketing campaign. However, it’s not just a one-off case. Memes and their creators have become well integrated into the fashion industry, evident when globally known meme-creator Elliot Tebele aka (@fuckjerry) walked Ermenegildo Zegna’s Milan Fashion Week A/W 17 showcase. With an industry based on ideas, images and taking inspiration from consumer interests, it’s only natural that the leaders have begun to take advantage.

One of the high-end fashion brand’s main issues throughout time has been the general public’s inability to relate. In contrast, memes are relatable across generation, class and creed. The public is searching for commonalities, and memes could serve as the perfect way cross boundaries and remove the perceived elitist nature of the fashion industry. For instance, contemplate the Vetements remake of the Comme de Garcon staff jacket, and then the recent emergence of the knock-off Vetements raincoat from Vetememes. This back and forth from serious branding to a satirical mocking undoubtedly reflects our meme-filled lives, creating a commonality between the public and the high end brand.

Furthermore, consider that Gucci market products at a very high price point, with fur coats costing up to $38,000. It’s thus particularly clever of them to rebrand themselves as having a “sense of humour,” becoming more relatable than their competitors like Chanel or Louis Vuitton. Recently, Gucci have linked themselves with social media influencers who the youth of today can connect with, such as Petra Collins, @pollynor and Harinef, individuals that Gucci has named “muses”. Influencers create social waves, as do memes. It’s hard to find an Instagram search feed that won’t contain at least one. Therefore, memes have become a new wave of communication for high fashion brands.

Integrating memes into the fashion industry has caused unforeseen controversy, but it’s a calculated decision that’s working because you can’t deny – we’re all talking about it.

Written by Roisin O’Hare

Editorial Assistant

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John Travolski