i'm glad you've gotten into art history because now i feel comfortable contributing this thought i have. my involvement with memes being cursory at best, i do appreciate the scale and speed at which the internet can crowdsource originality out of existence (it can also bring it back!!). i wouldn't be so quick to attribute this to the
though. at least not at the basic reptile brain of it. 6 year old me didn't play his jungle book VHS into the garbage because of ambition. capitalism and industrialization in my mind are symptoms of, or perhaps coping mechanisms for, people's tendency to smother the hell out of what they love for one reason or another. there often isn't a reason--i suspect it's pathological.
early in the thread, @splendorr characterized a meme as an artifact of forced repetition--later as a "variation" on existing content with diminishing humor returns. not just the image, but the practice of excessive iteration or imitation. i agree with that because it gets at the important context--humans have always, always done this. back when the world was a truly dank pit of plague and illiteracy << @starsailor: "oh, you mean MODERN DAY?">>, medieval monks spent entire centuries riffing on the same handful of Catholic plainchants. there was no authorship then, and very little creativity (God wrote all the words and music). just year after year of monophonic liturgies that nobody could understand anyway because they were in Latin. talk about getting genericized! talk about chasms of nothing!! and yet dudes chopped off their own balls for a crack at these garbage tunes. after a while somebody fucked up and sang a perfect 5th, then triads, then harmony and counterpoint--all based on the same source material.
again, i suspect religion was not the root cause. after all, any polyphony was considered ILLEGAL by the church at first, and thirds even more so. what i suspect was going on was this: insular communities of depressed idiots compulsively copying each other with the goal of stealing someone else's happiness. whether the happiness took the form of wealth or recognition or a golden ticket to cloud city was incidental--although God's love, being boundless and fake, was a more sustainable vehicle for this process, which is why it has persisted for so long.
since time is linear and generations overlap, this is never true. every culture's output is tainted both by its imitators and the stuff it's imitating. the work of geniuses like palestrina and beethoven and johnny hallyday, along with countless forgotten people not named beethoven, is all derivative of something. baroque music, for example, likely rivals memeing in percentage of derived material. that's what fugues and variations are, exclusively. doesn't mean some of them aren't good. and that it was good doesn't mean it was remembered, as orson welles would point out.
i think splendor's point was to say that it used to be easier to form your own insular communities of depressed idiots before the internet. i half-agree with his statement, then. the half that disagrees thinks that if you put high speed internet and a webcam into every 90s household, you'd find a bunch of friend groups who aren't as original as they thought.
the half that agrees is gonna quote some lines from sir paul mccartney: "Too many people going underground--Too many reaching for a piece of cake!" that's the main thing of it. there are 7 billion reasons why the world and our way of life is fundamentally different from history times, "golden era" fallacy be damned!!
people haven't changed their approach to making bad stuff for dumb reasons, i don't think. some joker on the internet likely employs a similar level of creativity and effort altering a meme to that of a monk chanting dies irae in a different mode. both of them are exercising their mirror cells, but there are several million more instances of internet guy with different outcomes pertaining to reward, failure, vindication etc and different platforms for obtaining them. all incidental to their shared pathological need to ape.
statistically, internet guy is far more likely than the monk to leave something that, if it doesn't disappear, will fractal off into infinite judgments of "cool or not" determined by future generations of dsh. however, the monk is 100% more likely to go to heaven.