inglipI've already told you about Dogfort, the ongoing, collectively-curated webcomic about a dog military at war with cats that expanded organically from the meme fields at Reddit.

Over the last several weeks, a similar new image meme has originated on Reddit. It's a ragetoon-based series of comics about a deity called "Inglip" and his cult of minions called "Gropagas." These names originally came from words spit out by Recaptcha, a Google-owned user authentication service that forces you to type out wiggly words on the screen to let the web page know that you're not a robot.

Here's the basic gist:

A guy used the Recaptcha service and was asked to type "Inglip Summoned," which sounds like a line from a horror movie about a robed cult who has unleashed an ancient Lovecraftian evil. So now when Recaptcha spouts gibberish, Reddit users integrate it into the Inglip mythos. Like this:

So now all Inglip's followers are called "Gropagas." From there, new terms and plot points are tacked onto the meme until you could fill a decent size Wikipedia entry with its canon. Geekosystem has done a masterful job collecting all the important webcomics explaining the Inglip meme.

I enjoy the Inglip phenomenon because it's a perfect example of a category of memes you might call Internet Metahumor. We used to just call them "inside jokes" before we started calling them memes. But the internet moves the jokes forward into new and hilarious territory so quickly that you have to keep a daily eye on the web in order to keep up. (For example, a picture of a bored-looking Keanu Reeves labeled "Sad Keanu" was a simple joke, but in a few days last summer it became a massive set of jokes.)

This is how 4chan and Reddit humor works. Hundreds if not thousands of people stacking memes on top of memes, recontextualizing old jokes into new parodies, goofing around with wordplay, mashing things up, and generally producing comedic gold within the confines of a playset that's sometimes as limited as a few sloppily-drawn cartoon faces. It's a demanding type of comedy that requires people to stay on top of the latest meme evolutions, but when you get it, the results can be unbelievably rewarding.

Before you know it, people are finding real-world statues that look like Gropagas:

You may think this is all a waste of time, but I suspect that these hyper-expanding worlds of in-jokes will be so mainstream within the next five years or so that those who aren't in the thick of emerging online culture will be as culturally out of touch as my computer illiterate parents are today.

Because after all, these relational points of reference are what binds us as a society. Did you ever find it difficult to crack a well-recieved joke while visiting a foreign country? It's because they weren't immersed in the same culture. Chances are your joke draws from at least a few sources to which they've never been exposed. This is why only the most basic slapstick and other low-level forms of humor successfully cross cultural bounds. (High-level humor, like an Israeli comedy show's comparison of the Angry Birds iPhone game to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, appeals to so many nationalities because both Angry Birds and mideast peace talks are part of the globally shared culture.)

Similarly, it's why goofing off with some old friends most often elicits bigger laughs than even the funniest, most cleverly-written sitcom. You have years of history with these people that encompasses a huge cast of mutually appreciated stories and characters. Internet societies take this intimate joking and blow it up to a global scale.