Polling memes are great.
Don’t believe me? There is cultural theory to back it up. Wait, where are you going…
Seriously though, as Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and ethologist who coined the word “meme” said, “memes are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven out by the most successful memes.”
In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins theorizes that cultural evolution is a lot like natural selection: much like human genes, a meme is a concept that spreads from person to person and adapts over time, always changing. Like with DNA, a random mutation, such as adding your own take on a meme, can change the course of its evolution.
Reflecting on how the term was appropriated by the internet, Dawkins said in a 2018 interview that anything could become a meme, “simply by becoming more frequent in the population, in the meme pool, in the same way the gene becomes more frequent in the gene pool.”
Which brings us back to polling memes — arguably one of the best examples of Dawkins’ theory. They offer the standard options you’d find in questionnaires, whether you’re creating a dating portfolio or checking off concerns at a doctor’s office. There’s something beautifully conflicting about creating a situation where you’re simultaneously boxing yourself into categories and subverting binaries by making those categories super specific.
I am a:
🔘marvel for them to pay the emotional damaged they caused me
— jeanne (@taikatized) April 25, 2018
Polling memes have been dominating Twitter in the last year, blessing timelines with button emoji and hot takes. They aren’t particularly funny or clever, but they’re easily recreated, easily modified, and easily shared — everything a meme needs to survive in this bleak wasteland of the internet.
For some reason, people just relate to polling memes. This tweet, for example, just wouldn’t have the same punch to it if it just said, “Should I read a fic, write a fic, or think of possible scenarios and plots I’d like to write but I know I’ll never do it?”
⚪️ read a fic
⚪️ write a fic
🔘 think of possible scenarios and plots i’d like to write but i know i’ll never do it
— lam | hiatius (@raplinet) December 21, 2017
And this tweet about dealing with emotions is somehow more relatable than simply writing, “I don’t want to deal with my feelings.”
⚪️ feel feelings
🔘 just kinda pretend they aren’t there
— insane (@deIuge) December 6, 2017
The polling meme has stuck around longer than most memes — while dozens of formats are born and die within the same week, the wonderful polling meme has been able to adapt to different moods and can be appropriated to include any cheesy ’80s pop song.
In other words, the fact that the polling meme is still thriving months later fits in perfectly with Dawkins’ survival of the fittest meme theory.
🔘 Bad bitch
⚪️ Are a good friend
⚪️ May be entitled to financial compensation
🔘 Can’t kill me
— Pearl Papí (@DreadsWilson) May 27, 2018
So why are polling memes so relatable? Because they play into what the internet already loves: taking sides. No matter what context the polling meme is used in, the meme creator is setting up their audience with a series of options, and then only picking one.
do you ever feel:
🔘 like a plastic bag
— ً (@everytay) July 15, 2018
The solidarity in polling memes is what makes it such a relatable meme — no matter what option you choose, there will always be other people who would choose that option, too. Whether it’s poking fun at tired sexuality labels or bypassing frustrating tropes for what people really want on dating apps, polling memes will always have mass appeal.
And that is why polling memes are great.