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The Top 10 Memes of 2011

The year’s best viral videos and gags, featuring Rebecca Black, Pepper Spray Cop, Charlie Sheen and more

Memes

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Whether silly image macros, viral videos, Twitter hashtags or goofy altered photos, memes have become a major part of contemporary culture. They have the potential to create celebrities, alter the way we speak, and – in many of 2011's best memes – can serve as vehicles for political protest. Here are Rolling Stone's favorite memes of 2011, ranging from WTF silliness to pointed expressions of dissent.

By Matthew Perpetua

meme

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3. Feminist Ryan Gosling

The Feminist Ryan Gosling meme puts a clever spin on celebrity worship, with fans of the Canadian actor pairing images of his dreamy face with text in which he sweet talks ladies with references to feminist theory. The humor is partly wishful thinking – What if the cutest guy around also had a passionate interest in progressive women's issues? – but it's mostly rooted in the likelihood that the dude has never read a page of Jacques Derrida, Gloria Anzaldua or Margot Canaday in his life.

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2. Pepper Spray Cop

Though memes such as We Are the 99 Percent have helped spread the message of Occupy Wall Street, the most iconic meme associated with the movement didn't come along until after it had gained some momentum. The Pepper Spray Cop meme takes a horrifying image of UC Davis Police officer Lieutenant John Pike casually pepper spraying a line of unmoving students at an Occupy protest on campus and pastes it into many classic paintings, from Georges Seurat's masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte toJohn Trumbull's A Declaration of Independence. The meme also includes less subtle images, such as the one where he appears to be spray painting over the American Constitution. While other Occupy memes have been rather strident, this one manages to balance the silly wit of the best memes with an image that sums up the flippant disdain many powerful figures feel for the populist movement.

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1. Rebecca Black, ‘Friday’

Much like Nirvana's video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" 20 years ago, Rebecca Black's clip for "Friday" came from out of nowhere and immediately hijacked the imagination of pop culture. That said, the engine driving Black's "success" – and yes, those scare quotes are necessary – was the overwhelming disdain of the general public for a 13-year-old girl and her extraordinarily dippy pop tune. In a year when cyber-bullying was a hot topic, the treatment of Black by legions of internet commenters was a worst-case scenario, even if it inadvertently launched the fledging singer's career and earned her a role in Katy Perry's video for her hit "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)."

As much as "Friday" could bring out the worst in people, it also inspired hilarious parodies and kind-hearted covers, including a memorable version performed by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert on Late Night. Colbert and Fallon's extremely joyful cover cut straight to the heart of the "Friday" phenomenon, highlighting the tune's freakishly catchy hooks and wonderfully ridiculous lyrics. ("Fun, fun, think about fun: You know what it is!") Though "Friday" is famous for being "bad," it's really just silly, weird, and off-kilter. Thousands upon thousands of truly terrible or utterly forgettable songs come out every year; it takes something truly special to fascinate even a fraction of the many millions of people who watched the "Friday" video this year.

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