Mon., June 30, 2014 3:00pm (EDT)

America's Search For Meming
By Linton Weeks
Updated: 1 month ago

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.

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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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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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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