Emily Higginson was a high school student when she first contemplated the idea of creating a meme museum. The vision of an entire exhibition space dedicated towards memes was quickly brushed off as a joke as she continued on with her life. Nevertheless, the interest in memes stayed with her. This year, Higginson started her third bachelor year in Communication Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. She looks back at her high school days and smiles at the thought of how this ‘initial joke’ became reality. Currently, Higginson is the creator of, what she believes to be, Amsterdam’s first gallery entirely dedicated to the contemporary cultural phenomenon – memes.
The exhibition is open for visitors from September 17th to 28th, between the hours of 10:00-17:00 during weekdays. It is located at the Vox-Pop, a “creative-space”, owned by the Faculty of Humanities of the UvA. Vox-Pop is ideal for students who are inspired and can envision projects that will have a multidimensional impact on the society. With that in mind, Emily was highly motivated to carefully elaborate the message she wants to communicate with the exhibition. She describes it as a funny way to explore how memes have developed over time and contexts. Yet, the meaning that Higginson envisions behind every showcased image goes beyond entertainment.
Memes as the millennial lexicon
While putting the gallery together, Higginson collaborated with a team of local and international comedians to select the memes that were going to be part of the exhibit. She specifically noted how interesting it was to see how memes that were relevant to America’s pop culture, were barely recognizable for some of her non-American colleagues. Consequently, this exemplifies the influence that memes have on the modern day society and the perception of identity.
Higginson comments: “Humans have an instinct of storytelling, [and these stories] can be altered throughout time and societies, just like a meme”. Furthermore, she outlines, that memes are images born from a single idea, which are later personalized and changed according to a context that will make the meme understandable for specific segments of society. They can be looked at as inside jokes shared between thousands of people, essentially establishing the modern means of communication and playing an important role in the construction of the identity of these groups.
The future of memes
“Memes are part of the millennial lexicon”, elaborates Higginson. The future of memes as a phenomena, that has developed exponentially alongside the rise of new technology, is rather difficult to predict. Nevertheless, it is one of extreme relevance. Recent trends show the increasing politicization of memes and the potential of power, that lies within the distribution of such. The exclusive creation of memes with political, social,and cultural purposes have grand potential when it comes to targeting specific audiences and influencing societal perception. In the modern world of social media, memes become an influential instrument, that lead society to the question: To what extent can memes influence political action?
Emily Higginson is certain, that the era of memes has long begun and with a wink she remarks: “Who knows, maybe in a few years from today, we will see memes all over the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam!”