The Stussy S: The Meme Before Memes

The Stussy S: The Meme Before Memes

The Stussy S, a series of fourteen lines that makes the heart of any millennial beat with nostalgia. As any good 90’s kid would know, the S was the doodle to draw. It found itself on the corners of notebooks, etched in bathroom stalls, and just about anywhere where a kid with a writing implement could be found. It was a collective graffiti, something that we all just inherently knew to draw. But can anyone tell us why? The 90’s were a simpler time, before smartphones and social media and all the technological advances that have made collective thought so much easier. So how and why did so many kids draw this weird S through nearly two decades?

The Myth

The origins of the S symbol are unknown, but today most people agree that the S was based on the logo of a clothing line designed by Shawn Stussy, thus deeming the weird S the “Stussy S.” This clothing line, developed for surfers, first began showing up around the late 80’s. The general consensus is that kids started picking up on it, and by the 90’s it was a classroom norm. Others, however, combat this theory, refusing to refer to it as the “Stussy S” and instead naming it the “Super S.” They offer instead that this elusive S has been around since the 50’s, spawning from the graffiti of beat nicks. Regardless of where it originated, it cannot be argued that this was a worldwide phenomenon, one that appeared seemingly out of nowhere.


But What Does it “Meme”

The thing is, the 90’s and the early 2000’s were a strange time. They were a distinct period of transition; we were moving into an era where worldwide communication on a mass level could be found in the palm of your hand. Today when everyone simultaneously starts drawing or discussing something, it can be cited to this use of technology. When the entire internet started arguing over the color of a dress, we didn’t question where it came from, we simply went along with it. That’s because we have a handy-dandy little name to attach to these collective communications—the meme. A meme, if you don’t know yet, is essentially a cultural phenomenon that is communicated and spread throughout a cultural network via repetition and iteration. The primary cultural network for today’s meme is the internet. The origin of the meme, however, does not begin with the internet, but instead with a geneticist called Richard Dawkins. Dawkins claimed that the meme worked in culture much like how the gene worked in the body; as a replicator. Anyone who witnessed the repetitive drawing of the diamond-like S could certainly agree that it was a replicator, and one that thrived even without the help of the internet.

An Original Meme?

Can it be said then that the Stussy S is the original meme? Certainly there were phenomenon that existed before it that could be thought of as meme-like, but did they have the true qualities of the meme? What truly makes the modern day meme unique is that it generally exists for no reason. Memes are menial things, inside jokes that usually expands across the entire world. Memes build upon one another, recycles tropes from previous memes, and usually end up in some scattered cross-reference of several memes shared along with a picture of a minion on your aunt’s Facebook wall. But at the end of the day, these memes mean nothing beyond a testament of the power of collective communication to actively share meaningless things. The Stussy S meant nothing. Sometimes it was proof of how cool you were, sometimes it was drawn more heavily by boys, sometimes by girls. You could find it linked in a chain of repetitive S’s, curling away from its strict straight line parameters, or stamped across some surfer’s t-shirt. Regardless of the significance it held in your everyday life, on a cultural level it held no significance. It was, in turn, the original “silly” meme. Which makes us 90’s kids responsible for the state of memes today, as we ushered this in ourselves. So next time you see your aunt share that minion picture with a cross referenced phrase of several memes, remember that it likely all started with a little S.