International Internet Memes

Memes are ideas that gain life as they race around the internet. Anything observed, done, or created that makes people laugh or pay attention can be a meme, especially if they want to share it and build upon the idea. We've covered plenty of memes here at mental_floss, but that's only scratching the surface of the memes that pop up, proliferate, and die under our English-speaking radar. Yes, the same things happen in different forms in different languages, and luckily there are enough multilingual web publishers to give us a glimpse into those non-English memes, even if they don't catch on in the English-speaking world. Let's take a look at some of them, both old and new.

China: Dogs Wearing Pantyhose

You had to have laughed when you saw Dogs Wearing Pantyhose last week. The Chinese meme took off like wildfire after Weibo user Ulatang uploaded this picture of his dogs dressed in pantyhose. The sight was so ridiculous that others had to try it immediately, and uploaded more and more pictures. Dogs don't seem to mind, as the hose are not all that tight, and fluffy fur fills them out to a "womanly" shape. You can see more pictures here.  

Germany: The Bielefeld Conspiracy

German internet users started the Bielefeld Conspiracy (Die Bielefeld Verschwörung) in 1994 as a satire of conspiracy theorists. The idea is that the German town of Bielefeld does not really exist -as other towns do- but is an illusion cooked up by a secret government agency to cover up something nefarious. The original story was conceived by University of Kiel student Achim Held and a friend. The reasoning normally goes like this

Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

Most answer no, but if someone answers yes to any of the questions, he is immediately suspected of being part of the conspiracy. The truth is, Bielefeld is a perfectly normal town of 300,000 people. The conspiracy was so bothersome to Bielefeld's city officials that they sent a rebuttal to the national press in 1999 insisting that Bielefeld is real. Unfortunately, it was published on April first, leading many to disbelieve it. In 2010, a group of students made a film based on the conspiracy. When the conspiracy theory is shared with forums that are unfamiliar with it, the reactions range from "Ha ha" to "It's a joke? That's what they WANT you think…" 

Kenya: Makmende

Not too long before the internet went global, the word "Makmende" became a slang term in Kenya that loosely translates to "badass." The word originated from the 1983 Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact, in which Harry Callahan says the iconic line. "Go ahead, make my day." The name came to mean the toughest hero ever, even if he didn't exist, sort of like the mythic internet Chuck Norris, who has little relation to the actor or his roles. A sample of the jokes:

“After platinum, albums go Makmende”

“They once made a makmende toilet paper, but there was a problem: It wouldn’t take sh%t from anybody!!!”

“Makmende hangs his clothes on a safaricom line and when they dry he stores them in a flashdisk!”

Then in 2009, the character was given a face in a music video for the song “Ha-He” by Just A Band. The meme went wildly viral in Kenya, spawning multiple websites and image memes, such as this 10,000 shilling note.

Just A Band talks about their viral success in a video at CNN. And Makmende eventually got a page on English Wikipedia.

Russia: Preved Medved

Image by DeviantART member AlphaPrimeDX.

Preved Medved (ПРЕВЕД МЕДВЕД) translates to "hello bear," although the image is usually called "surprise bear" in English. The image meme (NSFW) was derived from the John Lurie watercolor titled Bear Surprise (NSFW), in which a bear surprises a couple having sex in the great outdoors. In 2006, Russians adopted the image for a variety of comic uses on the internet. Any situation can be improved with a surprise bear! In the 2008 Russian elections, the bear was doodled on many ballots, as a play on words because Dmitry Medvedev ran (and was elected) president. One of my favorite iterations is this crocheted Preved Medved.

Russia: Hardcore Chelyabinsk

A long-running joke in Russia is that the men of Chelyabinsk are hardcore: tough and cool under pressure, because life is hard in that industrial city. This came to light for the rest of us after the recent meteor in Chelyabinsk was recorded by numerous dashcams. We saw videos of an unknown flying object and a huge explosion, while the drivers sat in silence or muttered something in a calm manner. Just an everyday event? No, it was the famous Chelyabinsk demeanor. Watch a video example of men in Chelyabinsk having fun. Some Russian image macros give us the idea that Chelyabinsk women and even animals are pretty hardcore, too.

Japan: Mr. Baby

Sometimes memes cross international lines before they blow up into something big years later. In 2000, Allen Rout posted a picture of his baby son Stephen on his personal blog. Then sometime in 2004, the photo was used as the basis of an image meme on a forum in Japan. "Mr. Baby" (Aka-san) was Photoshopped and remixed into every conceivable setting, comic, and scenario. Stephen Rout turns 13 this year, and bears little resemblance to the image macros of his baby face that still circulate occasionally in Japan. The family, who discovered the meme in 2010, isn't bothered by it, as the jokes were all in fun.     

Japan: Mid-air Images

More recently, images from Japan have been circulating featuring two new memes that both take advantage of high-speed camera shots of participants jumping. Dragon Ball attack photos recreate battles from the Dragon Ball manga series, seemingly preferred by groups of girls. See more pictures here.

Quidditch photos are made by groups of boys recreating the game from the Harry Potter series, riding brooms through the air.

This is just a brief overview. If you have a favorite meme from a non-English speaking country, old or new, please let us know about it in the comments.

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April 9, 2013 - 11:56am
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