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Memes—typically images juxtaposed with other images, words, or phrases—have taken over the internet. They’re on Twitter and Facebook, inspiring national media coverage and inciting major political movements. Memes have, in many circles, become an entirely new language, introducing words like “yaaaaas” and “on fleek” into our lexicon. Kenyatta Cheese, a Masthead member, is one of the world’s leading experts in meme culture. His website, Know Your Meme, the first and largest online meme database, receives over 14.7 million unique visitors each month. I talked to Cheese about the importance of memes, and how they’ve come to define a generation.

Memes Are a Map to Internet Culture

When Kenyatta Cheese started Know Your Meme in 2008, most people had no idea what a meme was. He spent the early days sitting in a dark, ten-by-sixteen-foot room in New York’s Flatiron Building, his two co-founders illuminated by the glow of their laptop screens. “We would lurk in as many places on the internet as we could,” he told me, “trying to understand what people were talking about—what was catching people’s attention, and what wasn’t.” Cheese, a 44-year-old from the South Bronx, told his family that he was a “professional internet enthusiast.” They didn’t ask too many questions.

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