"Hipster Ariel" takes a silly stab at popular culture as one of the Web's most sought-after memes.

Ian Devaney’s Facebook default depicts a hand-sketched headshot of the 21-year-old musician. His photo choice is quite ordinary, save for the graphic of celebrity chef Paula Deen photoshopped atop his head.

Devaney’s Facebook photo is among thousands of memes posted on “Paula Deen Riding Things,” a Tumblr sensation that portrays the Food Network star “riding” a variety of random and unrelated objects. Each meme is generated and submitted online; funny modifications earn a re-post on the Tumblr site while the best clinch a feature on Memebase, a database that spotlights the Web’s most popular memes.

The word “meme,” coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, represents the cultural equivalent of a biological gene and signifies transmission via mimetic imitation. Memes in everyday life include fashion trends, religious beliefs and regional jargon. But while memes are virtually any thing or idea that circulates among people, Internet memes are of their own technologically disseminated, socially conscious, comedic ilk.

What makes Internet memes worth the hype? Patrick Davison, a former script supervisor at KnowYourMeme.com, says Internet memes are popular because they reflect modern culture in a humorous manner. “We should think of memes as jokes about popular culture,” Davison says. “They’re funny because they’re relatable to other middle class situations. They give a stage to ‘dinner party funny.’”

Internet memes take everyday tensions and twist them to create relief, says New York University adjunct media professor Beza Merid. “Much of today’s comedy overturns order and expectation. Memes do just that,” says Merid, who focuses on stand up comedy in his Ph. D studies. Such witty and eccentric connection to popular culture is precisely why Devaney chose to make his Facebook profile picture a meme in the first place. “It’s funny and my friends can relate to it,” he says.

But Internet memes aren’t only popular because of their comical content; they’re also widely favored for their “bite-size” construct. “We live in a multi-tasking society fueled by constant stimulation,” says Merid. “Internet memes offer those small doses of entertainment to keep us satisfied.” Whether at the office or during class, people can easily open a new tab on their Internet browser, view a meme, have a laugh and get back to work.

Internet memes require a degree of creation in addition to mass facilitation. “They differentiate from other viral content because they involve production, adaptation, incorporation and imitation,” says Davison. “They can take the form of pictures, videos or text but an element of them must be changed with each variation.”

Davison credits social media for the overall popularity of Internet memes. “It speeds everything up and spreads everything out,” says Davison. While traditional memes like the age-old “Knock, Knock” joke had a slow, word-of-mouth evolution, Internet memes rapidly diffuse through Facebook, blogs and other amplifiers like BuzzFeed.com.

Davison argues that memes are measured by their notoriety. “The legitimacy of a meme is measured by how many peoples’ heads it gets into,” he says. Currently, KnowYourMeme.com boasts an archive of over 3,000 popular meme entries. “If it isn’t funny or relevant, nobody will forward the meme and it will die out,” Davison says.

Memes’ successful online presence has inspired advertisers to apply their witty, ever-morphing repetitiveness to promote commercial products. It isn’t surprising that Wieden + Kennedy struck advertising gold by imitating meme culture in their recent Old Spice campaign. After all, memes are the current cool kids.