I’d reference memes here, but they’d probably be dated by the time you read this.
Novelty stores like Hot Topic have turned silly internet memes into a bonafide business.
It’s not like this is a new business practice either. In the early 2000s, I proudly wore a shirt that featured the pixelated banana from the It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time song on it. Did I think I was the funniest kid at the time? Yes. Was I actually the funniest kid at the time? Hahaha if only. Even so, the market for internet-based tchotchkes has only grown since then. As much as we cringe at stuff like The Emoji Movie, you have to understand that said stuff exists because there’s an established market for it.
With that said, do internet memes hold any value as collectibles when compared to, say, Star Wars figures? Short answer: no. Long answer: we’ll explain after the jump.
When we talk about “good” collectibles, we generally think of their value in the long term. While value can refer to how much money they’re worth, we like to focus on how much an item means to the collector. This is the main problem with meme collectibles: they usually don’t stay funny for that long. There was probably two weeks where you could write a joke about dabbing and get some chuckles, but now the same joke would make you sound like an adult trying to be hip with the kids. Not only is it hard to get a meme collectible at the height of its popularity, but it’s even harder to find value in that collectible for years to come.
Take, for instance, the infamous Diablo Error 37 t-shirt. The joke was ridiculously short-lived already, but by the time the shirt hit stores, the error message wasn’t even relevant anymore. I don’t even know if the shirt would get a laugh even if you wore it at a Blizzard convention. Similarly, did anyone actually watch the Grumpy Cat movie starring Aubrey Plaza? Did anyone even know it existed?
The other problem with meme collectibles is… well, what is there to even collect? A lot of these items are one-off products by random manufacturers, so it’s hard define where a collection begins and ends. Do you collect for animal-related memes? Memes from 2009? Anime memes? There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches, it just veers really hard into niche territory. Combined with the passing relevance of memes, it just gets really hard to build a big collection you’d be happy with years from now.
This all goes without saying that meme collectibles probably aren’t going to be worth money in the future either. Valuable collectibles like Action Comics #1 are generally worth money because of their significance to both history and pop culture. Meanwhile, memes that are blips on internet history are probably comparable to forgotten fads like Pet Rocks or Love Beads. That’s not to say these collectibles absolutely won’t be worth money in the future. We don’t have all-seeing crystal balls, of course. We just wouldn’t bet on it is all.
“Good” collectibles are extremely subjective. Some people like collecting action figures, other people like collecting political pins. If both are equally meaningful to the collector, then neither is better than the other. By that definition, internet meme collectibles are just as good as anything if you truly cherish them. You know the tastes of you and your friends better than anyone, and we’re not here to tell you you’re wrong.
Always ask yourself if novelty collectibles are going to still be funny to you a year or two down the line. And if the answer is yes, I’ve got a Peanut Butter Jelly Time shirt that you might be interested in.