Here we refer to meme in its sense as “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media” (“Meme”).
Citing Particular Examples of Memes
You would cite a meme in MLA style just as you would any other work: follow the MLA format template. When citing a meme, you should cite the particular instance or instances of the meme you consult—not the entire genre, the examples of which are usually created by many different hands and published in various places and at various times. (Although you can, of course, describe the genre in your prose.)
For example, you might cite a meme from a Twitter post featuring the Elf on the Shelf meme:
@nsarmoredfrog. “You’ve heard of elf on the shelf, now get ready for . . .” Twitter, 17 Sept. 2017, twitter.com/nsarmoredfrog/status/ 909460799365693440.
If you refer to an online article that collects various examples of a meme, the article is your source:
One example of the Elf on the Shelf meme features a cat on a mat (Kircher).
Kircher, Madison Malone. “You’ve Heard of Elf on the Shelf, Now Get Ready for This Meme with a Rhyme Scheme.” Select/All, 15 Sept. 2017, nymag.com/selectall/2017/09/rhyming-elf-on-the-shelf-memes-explained.html.
Titles of Memes
Many meme genres develop de facto titles—for example, Elf on the Shelf, Evil Kermit, and What People Think I Do. Style the title like a series title: capitalize it title style and do not use italics or quotation marks.
One challenge in citing memes is that individual meme examples often lack a title or employ the same formulaic textual framework. In the case of Evil Kermit, for example, the meme consists of a photo of “good” and “evil” Kermit with a statement from “Me” succeeded by a statement by “Evil Kermit.” If you were citing various examples of this meme, you would substitute a description in the “Title of container” slot.
Your entries might then be distinguishable by the author:
Whereas some Evil Kermit memes focus on avoiding yoga (Parker), others focus on calling in sick to work (Sanchez).
Parker, Susan. Evil Kermit meme. Facebook, 3 Dec. 2017.
Sanchez, Roland. Evil Kermit meme. Facebook, 3 Dec. 2017.
Or, in cases where the same person used the meme repeatedly, perhaps the date would disambiguate references:
If the same author published multiple instances of a meme on the same platform on the same date, you could add more detail to your description of the meme:
Some versions of the Evil Kermit meme, such as those by Facebook user Eleanor Freely, explore the joys of having a cocktail with friends instead of baking (“Me: Bake”) and the temptations of binge watching The Crown instead of doing household chores (“Me: Iron).
Freely, Eleanor. “Me: Bake cookies for the grandkids” Evil Kermit meme. Facebook, 3 Dec. 2017.
—. “Me: Iron the tablecloth” Evil Kermit meme. Facebook, 3 Dec. 2017.
“Meme.” Merriam-Webster Unabridged, unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/meme.