In Search of Pipe Memes

E. Roberts
We pipe enthusiasts are an odd lot; at once an anachronistic bunch
who cling to rituals and relics of the past, while simultaneously reinvigorating the hobby via the power of the Internet—we are, right now in fact, engaging in our collective pastime on the web’s #1 Source for Pipes and Pipe Tobacco Information. Enjoyment of fine tobacco is a hobby that spans generations, and across these generations, the new technological paradigm has been enthusiastically embraced. It will make interesting study for future historians to explore the ways that technology shapes communication in this century. The marvels that have allowed us to hold conversations across the world at the speed of light have also saddled us with the chaff of pop culture—"reality" television comes to mind.

Regulars at the site who participate in the forum discussions are an important part of what shapes this community. For those that don’t know, forum "threads" are a post-by-post running conversation in real time, like messages on a virtual bulletin board—in fact, bulletin board systems, or BBSs, were one of the earliest utilizations of the Internet. While the interface has become a bit more streamlined and graphically interesting since those early days, the heart of the content remains so central to net engagement that it hasn’t needed to change much—people like the idea of conversing with anyone on the globe who shares the same interest.

What I find an interesting addition to the way we communicate over the net is the use of memes, specifically the picture with text variety. Memeing has evolved into a dialect of this relatively new language of cyberspeak. Memes have emerged as a shorthand for the collective consciousness of pop culture, and at their best are concise, germane, and hilarious summations of a many-layered conversation. When poorly implemented or simply overused, they don’t really add to the debate; they can be the cyber equivalent of a punch line falling flat. Typical forum memes are crafted from humorous random imagery or pop culture reference and are imbued with new meaning through captions or comic timing within a threaded conversation.

Not the most interesting meme in the world anymore… 

… But this is how it’s done.

Now that we’re on the same page as to what a meme is, let’s look at what a meme says. "The gentle art of pipe smoking," as it’s so often imagined, takes on a persona and can become a cliché of contemplative mild-mannered authority, rugged (and often bearded) individuality, and avuncular amicability. As a writer, I am all-too-often (I will begrudgingly admit) prone to fall in step with this easy encapsulation of the theme of pipe smoking. It’s a kind of shorthand for our shared interests, and a generalization of our demeanor in the aggregate. A cursory search turns up more than a few memes that reinforce the stereotype:

This gets points for clever pun usage.

Babies and children are inordinately popular meme fodder.

Note the telltale signs of 1960s style.

Bob Dobbs, one of the earliest memed images.

Imagecrafting for the new generation.

Often memes begin as images with their own inherent meanings. Update it to current cultural relevance, and hilarity ensues.

Magritte changed art with this statement.

Snarky artist throws it back in Magritte’s face.

Blend in another trending meme, itself borrowed from WWII graphic art… 

… and end up with a more dignified meme.

Here are a few images of pipe smokers ripe for the memeing. Join the conversation on the forums right here, and show us your own creations! When using them out in the wild, though, beware: do it with style. Add to the conversation. Re-using an image only works if it’s done adroitly—a meme has to make its statement eloquently to be good.

May as well have fun with the style.

Use this one for authoritative statements.

40-somethings will find this amusing.

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

8 Responses

  • And a special thanks to Rick Newcombe, whose excellent book, *In Search of Pipe Dreams* served as the inspiration for this memed article title.

  • Thanks for pointing out one of the roles that memes play in the pipe community. Memes abound in the Internet culture, and we are no exception. In addition to being amusing and communicative, memes can be very powerful. They can readjust the consciousness of, and about, a community, such as pipe enthusiasts. You might be interested in my article in The Pipe Collector, February, 2014. This is the title: “To ‘Muse’ Instead Of ‘Smoke’—That Is The Question: Pipe enthusiasts need a new meme.” As long as we are known as “smokers”, we will be lumped together with cigarette smokers and incur the wrath of the anti-smoking fanatics because of guilt by association. Pipes are much healthier and stress reducing than cigarettes, and those of us who enjoy our pipes are much more laid back and contemplative. We are a different group. A new meme to describe us as something other than “smokers” might help readjust the attitude of the general public towards us. I suggest that we create a language meme to refer to ourselves as “musers”, rather than “smokers”. “Musers” reflects the tendency of those who enjoy their pipes to be contemplative individuals. Others have suggested calling us “lunters”, which would resurrect an old word for “smokers”. Of course, I prefer “musers”, but any new language meme that improves our image with the general public would be welcome.

  • Haha you must have LOVED searching for these memes :p wonderfully fun article, totally appropriate for the subject matter, nice!

  • @muser1 — “[A]ny new language meme that improves our image with the general public would be welcome.” That’s precisely the gist of what I hoped to do with this lighthearted little article; by participating in the online dialogue, we all, knowingly or not, become representatives of pipe smokers in the eyes of a much larger audience.

  • What a great article especially loved the WWII meme
    Also a big thank you ‘cos I didn’t even know what a meme was!