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Julio Iglesias, smiling and tanned, points his finger at you, with a mischievous look and tells you: “And you know it”. Someone, somewhere, for some reason, chose this image of the Spanish singer and added an overlay text to it. Later, this artifact went viral on the networks and many other people used the same image to capture different funny or delusional ideas. Perhaps Iglesias is now better known among the younger generations for his memes than for his albums… “And you know it.”

Thus, the image of the artist became a meme. Memes are often seen as an outgrowth of social media activity, digital junk for quick consumption, not a very respectable thing. But there are those who take these images much more seriously. “We want to claim the meme as a cultural expression of society, as a reflection of who we are, even as an artistic expression,” says Juan Gómez Alemán, director of La Juan Gallery together with Rosa Ureta, promoters of the Festival of Culture on the Internet SoyMeme, which is being held from last weekend to this Saturday in Madrid: there are meme battles and workshops, round tables and even a memetron, a mechanism that transforms people into memes.

Memes arise wildly on the networks, in real time, in reaction to current affairs, with satirical, humorous or decidedly political intent. They deal with the heat wave, Victoria Federica Marichalar y Borbón, the Andalusian elections, relationships or the current corruption case: the internet is the enormous machinery that turns reality into memes. Most soon fall into oblivion, but some chosen (by the masses) become part of the collective imagination.

Many times the basic image determines the meaning of the piece. The ‘Distracted boyfriend’ meme is often used to express a desire for something better than what we have, even if what we have isn’t bad.
Many times the basic image determines the meaning of the piece. The ‘Distracted boyfriend’ meme is often used to express a desire for something better than what we have, even if what we have isn’t bad.

If Julio Iglesias is like the Guernica of memes, there are others that would also be recorded in a hypothetical universal history of the format. For example, the image of the heterosexual couple walking down the street while the boy turns to look at another passer-by (it is usually called Distracted boyfriend), which is used to express the desire for something better than what we have, although this does not is completely wrong (because, many times, the basic image already implies the meaning of the meme). Batman giving Robin a resounding slap.

The girl who looks at the camera with a malevolent expression while she burns down a house (known as Disaster girl). The big, muscular dog versus the wimpy little dog (Swole Doge vs. Cheems), representing the glories of a heroic past versus contemporary silliness. Gene Wilder’s condescending expression playing Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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