The Three Tiers of Meme Irony

Written by Kyle Kirkpatrick |

Memes, also known as “the air I need to breathe,” represent the finest art of the 21st century. They’re a lens through which our youth (and I, nearly 30) view every corner of daily life: news, politics, pop culture, and of course, the banality of our very existence.

Defining memes is kind of like defining the word “the” – you know, intuitively, what it is, but if you try to explain it, you’ll probably end up sounding like a big idiot. But here goes: It’s a visual, hopefully funny piece of internet #content – created for any reason – that can be manipulated, emulated, or shared across various Places Online.

On some level, all memes depend on irony, but the level of irony varies greatly within the meme community. In the spirit of The Rule of Three, I’ve divided these into the following tiers:


Tier I – Entry Level Memes:
You’ve seen these. You know, the ones with bold white text at the top and bottom of an image. You may have encountered these in your inbox in a chain message that originated with your uncle. They’re straightforward, templated, and uncontroversial, so you may even encounter them on your local evening news or from one of your favorite mega-brands. This is objectively the worst kind of meme, but an important stepping stone for anyone looking to “try out the lifestyle.”

Tier II – The Rising Generation:

Instagram’s most prominent content celebrities depend on these memes, which cater to the young – again, 30 is definitely still young – population of social media users just looking for a good ol’ online chuckle. Tier II memes banish the famed bold white text, often in favor of plain, Twitter-generated typeface, when necessary. These memes might take an ironic spin on an everyday situation, or riff off a prominent public figure or event. These are the voices of our youth, like it or not.

Tier III – Six-Dimensional Meme Chess:

When you’ve encountered enough memes in your life, you may be left yearning for more – a new layer of irony that surpasses the sometimes predictable, played-out, or obvious jokes that plague Tier II. If that’s the case, you might want to dip your toe into the realm of the third and final tier of ultra-ironic memery. Tier III is a dark, dank witch’s brew that includes memes based on memes, distorted text (WordArt!), lowered-quality images, and complete nonsense – it’s the Dadaism of today. If you see a Tier III meme and “get it,” it can be a real treat. If you don’t, it’s OK to pretend! That’s what the internet’s all about, anyway.


Best of luck on a fruitful and rewarding meme voyage!