So you and your friends are at a football game,or maybe at a party, or perhaps, you’re at the mall. Someone decides the moment is picture worthy and takes out their camera. Everyone gets really close together and smiles. Everything seems normal. Later, you look at the picture closely and notice someone in the background, it could be someone you know or a complete and total stranger, looking at the camera and actively invading the photo with the intent of ruining it. To most of us, this is known as photo bombing. And it is annoying, but nevertheless a meme.
A meme, according to Richard Dawkins, is a component that is being spread and mimicked. Photobombing has become wildly popular and people don’t just say “haha, look at this, it’s funny,” they participate and photobomb others’ pictures. What allows this specific meme to be transferred so quickly among people is that it plays on humor and you can get creative with it. In other words, it can be replicated because of its behavioral component: invading the photo which is what is done time and time again. But each person can carry out this behavior in a different way. For example, one might make a funny face, someone else might just stare creepily, and others might jump when the shot is being taken. These are all photobombs because someone is in the picture who wasn’t meant to be there by the intentional subjects or photographer, but they are each different.
Photobombing was quickly picked up on by others because it is easy to remember and retain the behavior and because it is easy to imitate it. Richard Dawkins suggests that “Memes fail when they can’t be remembered easily or don’t grasp our attention”. And how can someone in the background of your picture not catch your attention? The meme probably caught on from one person who did the actual photobombing and then that person already infected the photographer and intended subjects of the photograph with the meme. From there, this small group of people probably spread the story or the actual picture to their friends and family. Maybe the picture was posted on Facebook by one of them and the others were tagged. Then someone saw it and repeated the behavior because they thought it was funny and because why not, it doesn’t take much effort to intrude on someone’s photo. Soon enough it was widespread enough to gain a name.
The reason photobombing is so catchy and so willingly copied is because it is part of a memeplex, a group of memes that are easier to spread together than on their own. Photobombing falls under the category of typical picture memes. You know the kind, they are funny because of their stupidity, meanness, or actual humor. People are used to editing photos or creating them or commenting on them to create a sense of humor and photobombing developed naturally from these tendencies.
The website CheezBurger was specifically created to show pictures, videos, quotes, and other content that has become widespread. CheezBurger has an entire page dedicated to photobombing which suggests that people willingly and intentionally look at pictures that have been photobombed, perhaps hinting that they derive some sort of entertainment from them. And if you look through this page you’ll notice that what started out as people invading other people’s photos has now morphed into including animals. Now photobombing can be used to describe anyone in the picture, animals included, who are in the background or foreground of the photo and weren’t supposed to be there. So over the years photobombing has kept spreading and by reinventing itself it was imitated once again because of this whole new angle: the animals.
Overall meme theory allows us to understand the spread of ideas and behaviors through people by comparing them to the biological gene. It is interesting to think that almost everything we know is a product or byproduct of imitation, that we aren’t as unique as we’d like to think. And it makes a lot of sense to think of a meme as undergoing natural selection which would explain why some things catch on and why others don’t. On the other hand, the theory should take more into account people’s resistance and active thoughts and choices regarding memes. In meme theory it seems that the meme will be passed on just like a gene through natural selection. What meme theory doesn’t really address is that we are individuals and as such we can ignore wildly popular memes, decide to not watch a viral video, or not pass it on which is an active choice that we don’t have when it comes to gene heredity. Further, what criteria is used to determine what memes are useful or detrimental to society? It can be argued that photobombing is neutral to society because it neither helps it or hurts it, whereas others may believe that photobombing is a crazy, rude, and creepy thing to do. To others it might even be seen as useful because it allows for more memes that can then be analyzed using the meme theory.
I personally see photobombing as a neutral meme, I don’t think it is harming or contributing to society. But I will warn you, just be wary of who’s behind you next time you say cheese.