The Pandemic has a lot to answer for, but at the very least, many of us have tried to have at least some fun during the past year of lockdowns, heartache and talking to walls, right? And let’s face it, a good Batman meme is always worthy of passing on, right? Although some are better than others…
The first known use of the term meme was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, as an attempt to explain how ideas replicate, mutate, and evolve (memetics). Blending the Greek word mimeme, meaning something imitated, with the English word gene, Dawkins described memes as “ideas that spread from brain to brain”, and sought to use it as a way to explain how cultural information spreads and meme culture began to emerge in the 1980s, as people frequented early internet forums such as Usenet.
Of course, visual imagery was appropriated on and exploited for all sorts of reasons, both good and bad, long before the web took off. For example, it’s been noted that cartoonists have been using “Expectations vs. Reality” format jokes since at least 1921. The concept of the Internet meme was first proposed by Mike Godwin in an issue of Wired in 1984, an extension to discussion of “Godwin’s Law”, coined in 1990 on the Usenet newsgroup discussion board, that says,“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches.”
There are both academics and dedicated web archivists out there who have been studying the history of internet memes for years, almost as soon as one of the first, Baby Cha-Cha-Cha, also known as Dancing Baby, helped showcase Kinetix Character Studio’s CGI software back in 1996.
And, for those of you by now screaming “what’s the funk has this got to do with Batman?”, DC’s caped crusader has been the focus of memes for years, not least thanks to multiple uses of “Batman Slapping Robin”, making often hilarious use of a panel of an alternate Batman on the rampage from World’s Finest #153, published in 1965.
Memes are by their very nature often a mix of appropriation and reinvention, but for those of us sometimes obsessed with “reality”, it sometimes disturbs to know there are some memes out there that create an alternate history of their own, particularly thanks to clever use of photoshop and other image manipulation software. One problem with these, rather than the more obvious parody potential of “Batman Slapping Batman”, is that when these are reposted by a comics historian, I’m often quickly sent down an internet rabbit hole, to see if the image is “real”.
(I know, I know, I really should resist, but when you get sent a picture of a very woolly sheep that it was claimed got that way to avoid being eaten by wolves, only to find it was an errant animal on the run in New Zealand where there are none, you might have an inkling of how my brain is wired…)
Which brings me, finally, to this – the Suburban Batman Van joke, which as far as I can tell, started doing the rounds of the Internet in 2018…
This set all my bat senses tingling, not least because there really are some wonderful, really bad Batmobiles out there, and I initially thought this was one of them. After all, it’s not as if DC themselves haven’t been guilty of approving the oddest of Batmobiles in the past.
But this one, sadly, is a Photoshop construct, probably derived from this picture of a “real” Batmobile…
As is this one, that has been circulating even longer, and which one person on Reddit even claimed was genuine, even though it didn’t take much Google searching to discover it had been photoshopped over a humble Bedford van snapped trundling around the Mediterranean island of Gozo, near Malta!
In the great scheme of things, a fake “Bat Van” is pretty inconsequential, and the inventive photo shoppers deserve credit for their fakery. But for those of us sometimes taken in, perhaps this should be a lesson in caution when it comes to accepting some memes at face value, while appreciating them as often great fun, and, argues Limor Shifman, professor of communication and journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of Memes in the Digital Culture, as a cultural echo, perhaps something of even greater import.
“Memes are becoming a truly important part of how humans communicate with one another,” Shifman, told Thrillist back in 2017. “They appeal to our need to be part of a larger group, and simultaneously our desire to be individuals.”
So for those of you wanting to be part of a larger group, here’s a Batman Slapping Robin Meme Generator. Away you go!
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