Originally posted on r h i z o m i c o n 3 June 2011, 4:39 EDT

On Wednesday, I tweeted about a Pew Internet report on the US demographics of Twitter users. Just now {h/t:: LinnyQat}, I was informed of a new trending topic meme, #ghettospellingbee. There’s plenty of funny to be had, but the interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years is how memes cross cultural boundaries. First off, there’s a school of thought explained in this Slate article that says that blacks use Twitter differently::

“Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It’s this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.”

So, these “blacktags” {perhaps made famous by #ifsantawasblack}  are more prone to go viral. According to Baratunde Thurston, the Web editor of the Onion::

“Twitter works very naturally with that call-and-response tradition—it’s so short, so economical, and you get an instant signal validating the quality of your contribution. (If people like what you say, they retweet it.)”

Where things get fuzzy is who can participate in the joke. I think things are more nuanced than being in stark terms of participants being “in-group” {black} versus “out-group” {non-black}, but more in terms of an ironic post-racial poking fun of cultural usage of language versus a poking fun of others for being out of the norms.
A few years back on NBC’s “The Office” {‘Diversity Day’, s01e02}, Michael Scott {Steve Carell} did a Chris Rock impression about blacks being racist against other blacks. This impression caused complaints, necessitating the staff to engage in diversity training under orders from corporate::

Mainstream culture is still figuring out where the lines are with respect to being racist, since one person’s context isn’t the same as another’s. This fuzzy area makes it easy for people to get slammed for what they don’t see as being as offensive—a more nuanced version of the “who can say the N-word” debate.
Twitterversion:: [blog] Explanation of how blacktags like #ghettospellingbee go viral. Demographics? Likely cause: usage & follow patterns. @Prof_K

AkonaI’m finally back in Toronto, but had an interesting sidetrip to Québec and will be blogging about separatism and Canadian identity in a future post.  I saw on Twitter that a trending topic was the hashtag, “#thingsdarkiessay.”  I knew it had to be some “inside joke” or meme I wasn’t aware of and the above tweet explained that it originated in South Africa, but was gaining attention in the US, due to the use of the term “darkies.”  Several observations on people’s tweets, pointing out the “irony,” noted that blacks were making it a trending topic.  I didn’t go through the thousands of tweets, but I’ll surmise {given the above} that the hashtag originated from black South Africans.

Regardless of intent, as a meme goes viral, it takes on a life of its own, making Roland Barthes‘s Death of the Author{s} quite salient.  Is this related to -or- independent of an idea that with some content {e.g., race or language referring to race}, the author becomes irrelevant or somehow transformed?  How does this inform dialogues about race, particularly as the Internet blasts apart contextual boundaries, let alone the determination of the “offensiveness” of content in a global context.

Twitterversion:: Trending topic #thingsdarkiessay originated in #SouthAfrica but sparks tweets in the global Twittersphere. #ThickCulture

Song::  F*ck You (Distasteful Ruff n Ready Mix) – Lily Allen

I’m ready to risk some potential embarrassment and admit my ignorance outright: I don’t understand the word “meme” — at all. I have seen the word used quite frequently (including by some TC contributors) and have read several definitions. But I just don’t get it. My hope is that some of our more erudite readers and contributors can explain it to me.

Here’s what I’ve been able to pick up so far:
-It is a widely repeated or imitated cultural idea, image, or practice.
-It supposedly acts in a manner similar to a gene, in the sense that through vast repetitions, more environmentally “fit” versions of the meme gain greater sticking power.
-With reference to the Internet, it often just means “fad.”

Some questions I have:
-Aren’t we just talking about the social reproduction of culture here — something that happens in everyday socialization?
-What is the unit of a “meme?” How does one delineate the parameters of a “meme” within a sea of culture?
-What on earth would make us think that culture is evolutionary, rather than just constantly changing without particular order?
-Isn’t the word “meme” just an attempt to make discussions of culture sound more sciencey?