Meme team: Olympic fandom meets the internet



London 2012 is already seeing fierce competition for meme supremacy.

Memes, especially in the form of captioned images – or image macros – are an increasingly mainstream form by which people comment on current issues.

US domination

You will likely not find Olympic memes in the IOC’s strictly controlled official social media forums. But Facebook sports at least six Olympics meme pages.

With more than 40,000 “likes”, The Olympic Memes is the clear favourite.

That being said the page is dominated by US interests, as are the images in most meme collections. Luckily, there is a meme designed to address such irony: Scumbag Steve.


The meme team

The most numerous pre-Olympic memes concern the composition of the US Men’s Basketball team.

NBA player Brian Scalabrine has been the subject of some ridicule since his selection in the 2001 NBA draft. His statistics are mediocre, but he has a fan-base built on consistent performance, likeablity, and everyman appeal.

However, much support for Scalabrine is janus-faced. According to Know Your Meme:

    As a joke, NBA fans will typically proclaim how great and amazing his basketball talents are, call him the “White Mamba,” or propose ridiculous scenarios or trades that could involve Scalabrine.

When it was suggested Scalabrine might be on the US Men’s Basketball team, this ironic support made its way to the internet by way of typical modes of memetic commentary.

As with many memes, some intertextual media knowledge is needed to understand the content. For example, the meme below uses an image and snowclone phrase from the SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon.

Spongebob’s friend Patrick typically proposes simple but stupid solutions on the show. The meme exploits this to propose that choosing Scalabrine has the same connotations.


Similarly, the Jackie Chan rage comic face is typically used to express strong and genuine exasperation over the incomprehsible and obviously foolishness of a situation.

As such, it makes the irony quite pointed to ask where Scalabrine is in relation to a table of the chosen team members’ statistics.


It is not just poor players who face the scathing memetic retribution of the internet. NBA superstar LeBron James has a meme dedicated to his long-standing inability to obtain an NBA championship ring. James is on the Olympic team, but is being mocked about only participating to win a “ring”.


Although James has now won an NBA Championship ring, memes continue to mock him by pointing out how few rings he has compared to other team members.


Users on the Facebook Olympic Memes page are also interacting about the apples-to-oranges comparison of NBA Championship rings to Olympic medals.

In one meme, SpongeBob’s cynical neighbour Squidward dryly notes the difference, and a President Obama meme has been created to respond to the Squidward meme, heightening the ridiculous nature of the issue.


Mocking about the level of greatness is taken even further with images of other Olympic athletes displaying their medals as if to top a boast from LeBron. The version below shows gymnast Shawn Johnson captioned with another meme-element, the phrase “You mad?”.


An image of Michael Phelps has been used in a similar fashion to mock the Charlotte Bobcats.


Australia: Guns versus Speedos

The Australian Olympic team currently appears in very few memes. One exception is a response to the controversial photographs of Nick D\’Arcy and Kenrick Monk holding guns.

Hammy’s meme version uses contrasting categories of social expectations over who holds guns and who wears Speedos, comparing D’Arcy and Monk to shooter Michael Diamond. For a meme, this is a very gentle chiding that still shows support for Australian athletes.


The central concept of this version evolved from prior memes chiding inappropriate combinations, in this case men in speedos with guns.

Olympic versions of common memes

While the Scalabrine and LeBron James memes involve collections of different image macros responding to the same situation, the majority of Olympic memes are single-instance issues or generally applicable uses of common meme templates.

Again, many involve revealing ironic comparisons, such as Annoying Facebook Girl’s inappropriate fandom.


Hypocrisy is damned with cuteness in this version of the Condescending Wonka meme that points out the disproportionate physical efforts of athletes and animals.


The shape of memes to come

As we head into the Olympics, expect to see a range of memes. Many will be simple images of athletes in strange physical positions, in which there is no particular meaning associated with the athlete or the action beyond the strangeness of bodies captured in mid-motion.

More complexly, individual images will be combined with existing meme template elements to provide new versions of common memes. In the image below, the athlete’s facial expression is associated with stupidity (“derping”) and arm positions associated with the defensive surprise of the Neil Degrass-Tyson reaction rage comic.


The most telling memes, though, will be those that comment on an aspect of the Olympic athletes, sports or administration, such as the US Men’s basketball team memes above.

When controversy strikes, the memes will follow, just as they should – memes are appropriately a folk medium.

In the ensuing days and weeks, look for memes on everything from the important (such as the G4S security shortfall and the inclusion of Saudi women) to the trivial (such as the size of the Olympic village beds).

Memes are one of the places to express our opinions, and they will represent an important facet of the London 2012 Socialympics.