Faxlore: Memes down the line

Editors Note: This post is based on a presentation at the upcoming Theorizing the Web 2015 conference. It will be part of “The Feel World” panel.  

From the book: 'Still More Folklore from the Paperwork Empire' by Alan Dundes and Carl Pagter. Via  http://www.spacestudios.org.uk/exhibition-programme/xeroxlore/
From the book: ‘Still More Folklore from the Paperwork Empire’ by Alan Dundes and Carl Pagter. (Via http://www.spacestudios.org.uk/exhibition-programme/xeroxlore/)

Internet memes are arguably the most recognisable form of online vernacular; a proliferation of expressive pictorial and / or textual compositions, frequently characterised by running jokes expressed via informality and intended errors. The pervasiveness of humour within memes might make it easy to dismiss them as trivial, but this would be an oversight. In fact understanding the function of humour within memes discloses much; illuminating the relationship between memes and their antecedents, as well as the ways in which web-enabled social dynamics and vernaculars develop. Memetic behaviour is not novel but its current prevalence, as supported by networked culture, is remarkable. This post, a historicisation of meme usage as a communicative practice, attempts put into relief their idiosyncratic characteristics, and address the role memes may play in cultural analyses. more...

Mediating a Torture Report

photo of George W Bush smiling wearing a cowboy hat with text overlaid that reads "The CIA's record keeping was so shoddy, "they lost track and they didn't really know who they were holding."

Earlier this week the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, more commonly known as just “The Torture Report” was declassified and made public and like many people I downloaded it. But given that it is a 525-page behemoth of documented state violence, most people are going to understandably look for summaries and analyses, letting other people do the hard work of pulling out important passages from the heaping pile of passive voice and bureaucratic jargon. While the report is deeply disturbing, the mainstream attention it has been getting is somewhat heartening. What might have dominated, but ultimately fallen out of, a couple of rapidly shifting news cycles has exploded over my Tumblr dashboard and Twitter feed in a constant stream of tiny, comprehensible bites of war crimes. Consuming national disgrace in small pieces isn’t necessarily new, it is the primary way the public learns about abuses of power. more...

Dilutions of Grandeur: Meme Longevity and Political Disillusionment

via durdom.in.ua

The past U.S. elections season was exciting for social scientists for many reasons, but none so much for the web theorist crowd as the amazing proliferation of election memes. In his essay “Speaking in Memes”, Nathan Jurgenson aptly dissects the phenomenon and its various facets: why and how election memes become viral, whether this virality is subject to campaign control, and how audiences and media conjure meaning by rebroadcasting and reporting these memes. There are many things I would love to further discuss in Jurgenson’s essay, but I will latch on to the issue of meme longevity and the possible reasons for some memes surviving far longer than most. I will also attempt to speculate about factors that afford memes the power to shift shape and adapt to new contexts, and about how and why their meaning might be transformed by the public in the process. more...

Adapting to Adaptations

Oh, the irony…to find myself preparing to write about adaptations just months after the release of a motion picture based on a board game. A graduate student never had it so good: Battleship may not be a critical reflection of the delicate process of creating an adapted work, nor does it allow for the discussion of nuance and variation in the product of the adaptation process. But it is a rather wonderful example of the kind of derisive talk that swirls around them. Adaptations are spin-offs. Remakes.

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Rehashed and retold, adaptations carry a stigma: the unoriginal story, not so much created as concocted. They are cobbled together from the source text – the original work, the one that was inspired by some spark of creative genius – and they can never be ‘as good as’ the story that came first.

To me, the adapted text is one that emerges out of an older, more established work. In the case of writing, it’s often a book that’s been made into a film, but it’s also novels that are based on older, more classic works. There is the original story – the source text. And there is the adaptation. Adaptations open up the original in a new way. A really good adaptation makes me read or watch the story with an awareness of the original source – it hangs in the back of my mind, and I compare what I know to be familiar or the same, and I am fascinated by what is different. Battleship aside, adaptations are original works of art – the same way a song that samples another is still music. But not everybody sees it this way…and so the debates go on, about what is art and what is not art, what is original and what is second-hand, and whether adaptations can stand on their own merits. more...

Trayvon Martin: The Mistake of the Progressive Left

"For Trayvon Martin" mural by "Israel" in Third Ward Houston. Photo taken by Jenni Mueller.


On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin, a Black, 17 a year old, unarmed, high school student, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a White Hispanic man acting in the self-appointed position of neighborhood watch captain (click here for more details).

The case has become a symbolic battle ground for two important issues: gun laws and racism. Although both of these issues are inextricably entwined, for purposes of simplicity, I will focus here only on the issue of race.

As Jessie Daniels importantly points out on Racism Review, battles over racism have shifted into the realm of social media, where digital and physical race relations persist in an augmented relationship. We see this in both the progressive anti-racist discourses, and the racial smear campaigns surrounding the Martin/Zimmerman case.

Although it is important to expose the overtly racist tactics utilized by some of Zimmerman’s defenders—of which there are plenty—I want to talk here about a more subtle, and so perhaps more problematic form of racial discourse. Specifically, I will talk about how a prominent strategy of protest—coming out of the liberal left—may inadvertently perpetuate, rather than challenge, racial hierarchies in their most dehumanizing form. more...

The Crisis of Authenticity: Symbolic Violence, Memes, Identity

We are currently facing a cultural crisis of authenticity. Since the early 2000s, we have seen the concept “authenticity” slowly move from margins to mainstream (Reynolds, 2011), encapsulated by feverish celebrity gossip surrounding breakout stars like Lana Del Rey, personified through the rise of the urban hipster as folk devil (those self-professed taste arbiters of cool who ride “fixies” through the urban landscape, collect obscure records, and wear vintage clothes), and exemplified in Web 2.0 and the rise of social media (especially curatorial media like LastFM and more recently, Pintrest), where we are all now encouraged to share, like, and make public pronouncements of our personal tastes. In the contemporary zeitgeist, it seems that we are all “grasping for authenticity” in an attempt to make our lives seem more important, substantial, and relevant (Jurgenson, 2011).

In this environment, identity is constructed both on and offline, but our online identities are increasingly coming to define our public identities. As such, the “online commons” (Lih, 2009) becomes an important space of identity construction and conflict. more...

Viral Charity’s Simple Problem: The case of Kony 2012

One of the numerous memes inspired by “Kony 2012″

Viral media saw an interesting development last week with Invisible Children’s release of its “Kony 2012″ film, which at the time of this writing has garnered well over 75 million views as well as storms of heated criticism. One could practically write entire books on the issues that Invisible Children raises – both intentionally and unintentionally – in this campaign, but for the purposes of this post I want to keep the focus fairly narrow and trained on the actual components of the video that make it successfully viral – and what that potentially indicates about how information regarding especially complex issues is diffused, as well as what difference that form of diffusion makes.


The Show is Back

I actually discovered it after the project was over. The duckies, the sports racers, world-wide sandwiches, and the ugly MySpace profiles were all finished projects that had been immortalized in this strange, eclectic mix of abruptly (but expertly) edited videos. I don’t remember how I found out about “The Show with Ze Frank,” but it was probably on the recommendation of some podcast host. The web site that housed all of the videos for “The Show” was very strange for two reasons- 1) it had rubber duckies of various sizes, colors, and shapes and; 2) It was not Youtube. Today, the site has undergone only minor changes. The proprietary video player has now been replaced with a blip.tv player and there’s a button on the right that allows you to “like” every video on Facebook. “The Show” drew thousands of viewers before Youtube was the go-to place for video on the Internet. The episodes were shared between dedicated fans while Facebook was only available to people with certain college email addresses. But what is, truly remarkable about “The Show” is that you have either stopped reading this and started watching your favorite videos all over again, or you have never heard of this before but the video above has instant resonance with you. It’s playful, but incredibly honest at the same time. It’s simultaneously goofy and sincere. It’s the ur comedy viral video show and after a very successful run on Kickstarter, it’s coming back. more...

Politics of Beauty and Pleasure

As Langdon Winner aptly points out, artifacts have politics. They have politics built into them, are used with political intention, and interpreted through political lenses. Often times, however, the politics of an artifact are hidden from view, disguised, or misleading.  Here at Cyborgology we often deconstruct the political meanings and implications of different kinds of artifacts. Today, I want to deconstruct two artifacts that operate with the potential for, and under the guise of, technologically facilitated feminist liberation. Specifically, I look at the Fuck Skinny Bitches internet memes, and the now vastly present and prevalent female-coded masturbation devices (i.e. vibrators and dildos)[i]. I argue that these artifacts, rather than dissolving hierarchical gendered boundaries of bodily control and sexual pleasure, surreptitiously trace over these boundaries with invisible ink, only to be revealed under the light of critical sociological analysis.

Recently, we have seen in influx of internet memes that attempt to provide a feminist rejection of hegemonic standards of the beautiful body. These memes contrast images of curvaceous women to very slender women and include text that preferences the larger body/bodies. These are portrayed as the feminist answer to the unrealistic body sizes showcased and revered on runways, red carpets, and the annually released  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I call these Fuck Skinny Bitches memes. A couple of examples are pictured below. more...

Why successful black guy is successful

Successful Black Guy
Successful Black Guy

Why successful black guy is successful: The socio-cognitive side of humor

Having read Jenny Davis, David Banks and PJ Rey on internet memes, I felt compelled to share my creative grain of sand on this peculiar ‘web-based’ construct. I often wonder why memes are funny. The simplicity of memes is deceiving: e.g., a Spartan image, often featuring only the face or upper body of a person or animal, and a kitsch colored background that would make Warhol think you’re on acid. Add two rows of parallel text above and below and presto! –  You have created funny. Is it really that easy? I would generally think (and hope) that humor is a complex phenomenon, that answering  “why is this picture of a cat funny to me?” requires invoking some esoteric philosophical or psychological terminology. I decided to do some research.

One of my favorite memes of all times is “successful black guy”. This is successful black guy explained by know your meme: “an image macro series featuring a Black man dressed in business attire and a witty one-liner satirizing the stereotype of young African American male as street hustlers or gangsters who only care about cars, money and ho’s. The humor is mostly derived from the intentional line break in mid-sentence, with the top line impersonating a black male stereotype (EX: I Got the Best Ho’s) and the bottom line suddenly falling flat in character (EX: Out in My Tool Shed). more...