America's Search For Meming

Hanging up the wash. Circa June 14, 1914. i i

Hanging up the wash. Circa June 14, 1914. Harry Whittier Frees/Library of Congress hide caption

itoggle caption Harry Whittier Frees/Library of Congress
Hanging up the wash. Circa June 14, 1914.

Hanging up the wash. Circa June 14, 1914.

Harry Whittier Frees/Library of Congress

One reason Internet memes — the quirky photos with societal observations that are passed along like genes or around like germs — work so well, is that they tap into something of the moment, a fleeting notion that captures the here and now.

A visual meme is more like a snapshot than an "iconic image" — such as V-J Day in Times Square — says NPR photo editor Claire O'Neill. An iconic photo is timeless. But "what's 'timeless' about memes is not so much the image, or joke itself, but the timeless thing it is revealing about people."

Visual memes "are a form of observational humor," Claire says: "Everyone knows what it feels like to feel this way."

A meme will probably not live forever, Claire says, but that "sense of feeling bewildered will."

So when we found — in casual research — decades-old images in the archives of the Library of Congress that remind us of memes today, we couldn't help but wonder what kind of smart or snarky memes they would have inspired in their times. Any suggestions? Please keep it civil.

Good Guy Greg from KnowYourMeme and The Connoisseur, created by Frank A. Rinehart, 1899, Library of Congress. i i
KYM/Frank A. Rinehart/KnowYourMeme/Library of Congress
Good Guy Greg from KnowYourMeme and The Connoisseur, created by Frank A. Rinehart, 1899, Library of Congress.
KYM/Frank A. Rinehart/KnowYourMeme/Library of Congress

1) Amicable Fellow With Cigarette. On the left, present-day meme of Good Guy Greg from KnowYourMeme and, on the right, The Connoisseur, created by Frank A. Rinehart, 1899, from the archives of the Library of Congress.

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Meme of Overly Attached Girlfriend from KnowYourMeme and The Stenographer from the Library of Congress. i i
KnowYourMeme.com and Library of Congress
Meme of Overly Attached Girlfriend from KnowYourMeme and The Stenographer from the Library of Congress.
KnowYourMeme.com and Library of Congress

2) Amicable Woman With Eager Smile. On the left, present-day meme of Overly Attached Girlfriend from KnowYourMeme and, on the right, The Stenographer, 1923, from the archives of the Library of Congress.

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Business cat meme from KnowYourMeme and Hanging Up the Wash from the Library of Congress. i i
KnowYourMeme.com and Library of Congress
Business cat meme from KnowYourMeme and Hanging Up the Wash from the Library of Congress.
KnowYourMeme.com and Library of Congress

3) Cat in Human Attire. On the left, present-day meme of Business Cat from KnowYourMeme and, on the right, Hanging Up the Wash, one in a series by Harry Whittier Frees, 1914, from the archives of the Library of Congress.

After pondering the differences between memes and iconic photos, Claire O'Neill adds: "To make a long story short, this pretty much sums up how I feel about all this stuff."

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The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

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