The greatest meme of all time

The greatest meme of all time
Is this Loss?

Anyone who works for very long on “the internet culture beat” has to quickly come to terms with the fact that they’ll never beat Know Your Meme. The site, which has been around since 2007, is simply faster and more authoritative about what’s happening on the internet than anyone else, and it’s not even particularly close. They track down histories, cite sources, curate examples, and provide context before the normie internet – and even the extremely online internet – have even clocked a meme’s existence. 

I’ve known KYM’s Senior Editor Adam Downer for a long time – he came up writing about music in some of the same corners of the internet I did. But he’s now been on staff at KYM for 8 years, which is, and I checked this, longer than any other millennial has held a job. I caught up with him to talk about his view of internet culture after almost a decade at its epicenter. 

Read on to learn:

  • How he finds what to write about 
  • How Discord displaced 4chan
  • How to tell when something has “the juice”
  • What the biggest meme is right now 

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EX: Can you tell me about your day-to-day job? 

AD: The main job has always been researching trending memes. There's a couple methods that we use. One is going into Google Trends and literally typing in the word “meme” or “viral video” and seeing what the related queries are and if there's something that we've covered or not. 

And then there's a bunch of dirt-sheet reading, reading if other people have gotten stuff before we've gotten to it. And then the site has a system where, if you come to the site and you search something and we don't have it, that logs a little flag for us. If enough of those flags around one thing, then we know we've got to pick something up. That is probably, in my opinion, the most important. 

EX: How has that process changed over time? 

AD: Google Trends has definitely become more useful for us. The pits of the internet aren't as responsible for the creation of memes as they once were. 4chan, for example, has gotten less popular, just from 2016 to now. So more stuff gets more mainstream. The way Google's algorithm keeps changing has a big effect on what becomes more mainstream. Recently, Google boosted Reddit to be more popular. So we have to know what's popular on Reddit. When you Google stuff, stuff from Reddit is always at the top, and that wasn’t always the case. 

The dirt rack used to be a lot more useful, and now it isn't, because a bunch of sites got smushed into content slop. I won't name names, but there were sites that we used to go to every day to see if they had something that we didn't have. And now those sites are more “here's a story about a single TikTok video.” They're less on top of trending memes. We're becoming sort of the dirt rack for people to see if there are things that need to be covered. So that's a big change. I do miss when we had more healthy competition. 

EX: Why do you think the pits of the internet have become less fertile for this stuff? 

AD: The algorithm changes are definitely part of it. 4chan in particular is a weird example. 2016 was right when I joined. It felt like the height of 4chan going mainstream because of all the stories about how memes sort of “got us there” and how everything that comes out of 4chan is very alt-right. I mean, it's not. But it has that reputation now, so that stuff kind of gets squashed. People aren’t really excited to make jokes about that.

Also the rise of TikTok. There's a lot of TikTok stuff that gets popular and there's cross-pollination between TikTok and Meta properties, where something will get big on TikTok and then it moves its way over to Instagram Reels and YouTube. And then a bunch of the adults of the internet who are still into memes are on Twitter. Twitter still works in that regard, but it’s obviously less popular than it was. 

EX: It feels like there’s been a sort of flattening of the internet in the years since 2016 – between a lot of media dying out and then TikTok sucking up the energy. And because TikTok is more opaque as a platform and less searchable, it feels like it's less possible to sort of get a read on things, which is why you just get these stories where people on Twitter are freaking out about a very small thing happening on TikTok. 

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AD: Algorithms have kind of force-fed the conversation. When you're not searching out the content that you want and you're just having it fed to you, that has made things different in terms of the way internet culture works now. Because there's not communities. It's just kind of “the internet.” Community is on Discord, and things will leak out of Discord occasionally. 

Discord may have replaced 4chan in that regard, in terms of a community making a meme that then leaks out. Discord has its own reputation, but because it's so segmented, there's not a single archetype of thing that comes out of Discord. So many fandoms are centrally located in Discord. And group chats and whatever. Things that will get popular there can leak out onto Twitter, and we've seen a couple of those happen recently, but they're not politicized. Outside of that, it's very sort of algorithmically driven where you basically just get content shoved in your face. And it's not so intentional in terms of how you search it. 

EX: I am kind of optimistic about Discord being a place for a lot of the sub-communities and subcultures to reemerge. 

AD: I joined Discord mostly to talk about Super Smash Brothers, and I'm not widely engaged in communities on Discord. I've noticed that quite a lot of memes that we get, if we don't nail down a precise origin, it's usually coming from a Discord chat that has just been leaked out onto Twitter or Reddit or whatever. It's so random the way these sort of fandoms congregate – it might not necessarily be for a show or video game. I feel like that's still very Reddit-specific. 

EX: Are there specific Discords or subcultures that are most fertile on Discord? 

AD: Usually gaming things. Like things in the YouTube space. You can join a Discord if you're a fan of a YouTuber or Twitch streamer, and then those things can be weird and random. Those tend to be where I feel like the majority of Discord things come from. 

The original cartoon by fallenchungus

There's one meme that's popular right now, that's from a webcomic artist who was not big before this meme. It's called “bro visited his friend” where it's like two guys and it's just making fun of the way group chat works. That webcomic artist did not have a big following and now he does because his meme got popular. But he said that he just made it in like a group. He just made the comic to mock how group chats work. And it was first posted in Discord and then it got cross-pollinated. 

yeah so i went to go visit my friend- friendpilled visitmaxxer
Some variations
yeah so i went to go not beating the visit my friend- friend visitor allegations

EX: We came up writing about music together, which was super list-oriented and superlative-oriented. Do you think of your area of coverage in that way? Is it qualitative or more anthropological? 

AD: In terms of what Know Your Meme does, it's very anthropological. I definitely still have taste and would love to be able to rank memes more analytically or taste-orientedly. We still do year-end review stuff where we wrap things up and I made a push to make staff picks a part of that. What are our favorites? What did we really like? So there's definitely still a part of me that wants to do that. And there's definitely memes that I think are more high quality than others. If I really like one, I will try to sneak a way to praise it into there or something like that. 

EX: What’s your favorite meme of all time? 

The original comicstrip that inspired Loss.

AD: This one's not recent, but I did get the opportunity to write about Loss when that was a really big meme. You're familiar with Loss

EX: Uh, I'm looking it up now. Do I know this one? 

AD: The pattern, like – the lines? The pattern? One, two, two, and the L?

EX: No. Oh, okay. Yeah. All right. 

AD: That one's a classic, and it's huge. When I got the job at Know Your Meme, Loss was having a big moment on Tumblr. It's from Something Awful way back in 2008 or whatever. The idea behind it is this one webcomic was so infamous and so widely parodied that people just started breaking it down into its form, which is like that One, Two, Two and an L. When I was writing for Cokemachineglow and not really employed, I was on Tumblr a lot. And this was having a moment on Tumblr where, you know, basically you wouldn't know that you were looking at it. You weren't looking at Loss until a few moments went by, and then it hits you and you feel like you got smacked in the face, and that was a really fun moment where people were being really clever and really artistic and strange with this specific meme. Because you could insert this pattern into something and then you can elicit this huge reaction. 

Slavoj Žižek does Loss.
dark souls loss edit in game
Dark Souls does Loss.
We all experience Loss.

EX: Do you distinguish between “important” memes and “great” memes? Do you think of them through that framework at all? 

AD: I don't think about it through that framework. There are memes that I know don't have the juice to be huge that I really like because they feel very targeted to me personally. As opposed to memes that clearly do have the juice and I don't really care for. I mean, there was one a couple years ago where people started adding “Let's go Mets” at the end of videos as sort of a surprise. And, you know, I'm a Mets fan, so I see that and it makes me laugh but, you know, it's super, super niche. It's super targeted. And there's fan-art challenges that tend to be popular on our site because I feel like we attract a lot of the people who are interested in fan-art memes and drawing characters in certain templates that have never really been my bag, but they gain a gazillion views. 

EX: When do you know something has the juice? 

AD: When the edits start filling up our gallery and we have a lot of user-generated content. This “bro visited his friend” thing is a really good example because when I picked it up, people were just searching and I looked it up and I saw that it was a fairly popular one-off tweet. It didn't really have a lot of variations at that point, but people were looking it up. So I figured, I'll get it in there, we'll see what happens. And then two weeks later is when it really popped off and all the edits started coming and we're seeing, you know, obviously the site metrics, like the view count on the page go up and all the edits start flooding in. It's like, okay, now this has juice.

EX: Are there any broader trendlines that you're seeing? Does it feel like discrete movements rise and fall when you're looking at this over the course of years? 

AD: Yes, I think there are generally generational terms or generational shifts in terms of memes. Recently, one way you can really sort of track that is, I think, in just what slang is getting popular and where it's coming from. So there's this whole recent TikTok/Gen Z/Gen Alpha rise of nonsense words that are getting popular. And then the counter to that is a bunch of memes where they just shove all of the weird Gen Z words into one sentence that doesn't make any sense. The one that escaped was the “baby Gronk rizzed up Livy Dunn” one. That was the one I think that hit millennials like a truck, because they were like, “I have no idea what the fuck is happening,” but there's tons of that shit.

The concept of Ohio is a big thing with Gen Z. So it's like you put gyatt, skibidi toilet, Ohio, and just shove them all into one thing. That is a meme trend now: the absurdity of Gen Z speak. I'm not in Gen Z, so I can't say for sure, but if you asked me point blank what are the teens into now? What is the biggest meme now? I would probably point to that whole trend of TikTok/Gen Z speak.

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