An anatomy of a youtube meme

Limor Shifman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

307 Scopus citations


Launched in 2005 as a video-sharing website, YouTube has become an emblem of participatory culture. A central feature of this website is the dazzling number of derivative videos, uploaded daily by many thousands. Using the 'meme' concept as an analytic tool, this article aims at uncovering the attributes common to 'memetic videos' - popular clips that generate extensive user engagement by way of creative derivatives. Drawing on YouTube popularity-measurements and on user-generated playlists, a corpus of 30 prominent memetic videos was assembled. A combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of these videos yielded six common features: focus on ordinary people, flawed masculinity, humor, simplicity, repetitiveness and whimsical content. Each of these attributes marks the video as incomplete or flawed, thereby invoking further creative dialogue. In its concluding section, the article addresses the skyrocketing popularity of mimicking in contemporary digital culture, linking it to economic, social and cultural logics of participation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)187-203
Number of pages17
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • YouTube
  • imitation
  • internet
  • memes
  • memetic videos
  • participatory culture
  • remix
  • user-generated content
  • viral videos


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