Thursday, June 1, 2017

Only One Meme

So this happened today:

So I have to ask myself (instead of “This is not my beautiful stapler, this is not my beautiful chair!” what, exactly, is a meme, and how is a meme different than “just images with text.”

I went a-searching.

Which led me first to Richard Dawkins. I know. Eerie.

Per Wikipedia: a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture,” quoting Dawkins. Wikipedia adds “A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.”

More on memes here. Pretty much the same thing, though this site helpfully provides a lot of examples, and a more straightforward definition: the concept of memes “is either really deep, or really, really obvious,” with most of them sporting an element of humor.

(I, being an uncool person, have no idea if the sites I’m getting the information from are accepted by the meme purists.)

The Urban Dictionary emphasized the viral quality of an image, a “virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable.” That makes me wonder how impressionable ThePsychoipath is. This definition may help explain why the jet fuel image is a meme while the others aren’t, until you hear arguments that the other images on this particular list are also viral – within their respective cultures. Does a meme have to cross cultures or leave its culture to become a meme? The world may never know.

Question: Does this commercial come packed with memes? We’ve got the Yes Man – a meme from a different medium – a Peter Lorre imitation, and probably other memeified items I don’t even recognized because they’re just that far outside my cultural knowledge.

Since I’m not inside the head of “ThePsychopath” I cannot directly discern the origins of his/her pedantry, but I’m going to make an assumption that said pedantry stems from the “cultural ideas” and the “within a culture” portions of the meme definitions.

In other words, since the jet fuel “meme” carries cultural weight to those in the culture of 9/11 skepticism/denialism or research, this unit is the only one that qualifies as a meme in ThePsychopath’s” assessment of the other images on the list.

However, if I were to put on my English Major Hat, arguments can be made in favor of all of the other images – whether they be true memes or just images with text – being memes in their own right.

No. 2, for example, carries cultural ideas within the culture of Furries, right?

And I’ve certainly seen enough re-use of medieval art with modern captions to let me assume there’s a culture out there fascinated with looking at this art with modern eyes.
And tell me, ThePsychopath, that nos. 8 and 13 don’t scream of cultural ideas blossoming within the culture of Star Wars fans . . . even slightly creepy ones. (I don’t know enough about the faces the suns are pulling in No. 17 to address whether this image appeals to the Star Wars culture, another culture, or represents some kind of crossover – but certainly it, too, bears cultural ideas within that given culture, whatever it is.)

So I think the question here – what is a meme, and what counts as one – will have to be at best left open, at worst left open to interpretation. If you know ThePsychopath, however, have him/her drop me a line. I’d love to discuss this further.

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