One accurate measure of a meme’s impact is its duration of use and its sticking power in terms of online presence. I believe this has become truer and truer with each year since the early 2000’s. Today, a new meme concept may hit Reddit or some other online forum and be broadly applied within just a few hours. Within a day, there may be numerous combinations with other current memes or slight variations on the original format that still maintain its integrity. If the meme persists for more than a week or two, there may already be parties calling for its discontinuation within the hypothetical “Meme Meta”. Whether these outcries are ironic themselves or spawn from antagonists who never liked the original meme format, they are often fulfilled. Any average meme will slowly drop in use, often being replaced by other new memes rather than intentionally shelved. There are some, however, that stand the test of time. The “Galaxy Brain” or “Expanding Brain” meme saw its origin back in 2017, with one of its original forms being traced to a post on January 31st of the same year by user janskishimanski on Reddit under /r/dankmemes (https://memepediadankmemes.fandom.com/wiki/Expanding_Brain). Even today it can be seen in references from other memes or small, easily recognizable bits of its iconic glowing, blue brains.
The Expanding Brain meme actually began from a simple jab at grammar Nazis. The classic first image of the meme featured a skull with small, dull brain next to the word “Who”. This would be followed by an image with a normal or slightly enlarged brain with glowing areas indicating activity next to the word “Whom”, seeming to imply that individuals who correctly use “whom” in their everyday speech are superior to those who do not. This, however, would be followed by one or more panels of progressively larger, brighter, and more complicated brains whose glowing neural connections overlapped with cosmic imagery of vast star systems, hence the name “Galaxy Brain”. Next to these ever-expanding brains would be nonsensical variations of who or whom that departed further from established English with every accompanying image. For example, “Whomst” would often follow “Whom” and may continue all the way to “Whom’st’d’ve’nt” or beyond. In this way, the meme actually appeared to mock individuals who paid close attention to less popular grammar rules in speech and otherwise. Having to deal with such individuals was also a relatable annoyance that served to catapult the meme in its early stages. This basic form of the meme continued to proliferate and reach new audiences via other platforms such as YouTube, where the meme is posted in video format on February 19, 2017 by BagelBoy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoCcDi8zH8M&feature=youtu.be). Apart from the components of the original image format, the video features an echoing voice attempting to pronounce the increasingly difficult words over background music provided by Richard Strauss’ iconic main title theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The flexibility with which the meme could be applied helped it gain traction and maintain usage after its conception and early peak. While the meme format was often used ironically as the original had been, it was just as often used to imply genuine superiority of one idea or object over another of similar nature. This was especially common on Reddit or 4chan, where discussion and criticism regarding topics such as video games or politics is commonplace. Applied broadly, the Galaxy Brain format could be used by anyone to express their opinion about the relative rankings of browsers, game developers, titles within a series, politicians, or even abstract concepts such as behavior or ways of thinking. The meme also saw expanded use with alterations to the picture portion. The general trend of increasingly nonsensical ideas in text format would be maintained on the left. However, the cosmic brain images on the right would be overlapped with politicians or country flags of countries who actually implemented such ridiculous ideas. The images of cosmic human brains and bodies were also occasionally replaced with cosmic dogs and cats to bring attention to some of the amusing and random behaviors of pets listed alongside them.
The editing of the format itself marked the beginning of the late stage usage of the meme. More and more, the cosmic heads and brains were replaced with new images that maintained the spirit of the original format while offering new topics and breathing some fresh life into it. One such iconic variation uses images of music artist Drake taken from a somewhat surreal Sprite commercial in which his frame cracks to reveal that he is a being composed of Sprite. This new variation was traced to Instagram account @SonnySideUp and was posted almost a one and a half years after the aforementioned Reddit post (https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/galaxy-brain). Even now, the general concept can sometimes be seen being recycled with yet another new set of images.
On the other hand, YouTube saw the meme take on a different form equivalent to the one in which it continues most directly still. Rather than maintaining the essential style of the text-side of the meme format, the video platform and its creators made use of the now iconic glowing, galactic heads and brains that represented the distilled idea of derision at a dumb idea. Clips of people both famous and commonplace would be overlaid with only a few seconds of one of the cosmic brains, and viewers instantly knew that the person would say or do something relatively stupid and/or humorous. As such, the celestial minds live on as an ironic symbol of poor decision-making or a complete lack of common sense.
Feature image from https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1563180-galaxy-brain