When the email for Make Cycle #2 arrived on Monday, I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited about playing with memes for the week. I understand Richard Dawkins coinage of the term to refer to cultural ideas that replicate like genes, but for the internet, memes primarily seem to be words on a picture which can be easy to do (on a technical level) even if coming up with a good one liner isn’t as easy.
The meme I made this afternoon (Pimm’s Monday, above) doesn’t really work in a larger cultural sense. It was designed to share with a few friends who I had a delightful afternoon with yesterday. Queen Elizabeth is supposed to evoke the formality and Britishness of having a Pimm’s Cup, but also the silliness that can sometimes occur when one imbibes. I used an online gif generator which allowed me to take a youtube video and choose the few seconds I wanted converted to a gif. Another online image editor allowed me to add the words (I also could have used photoshop, which would have given me more freedom in terms of placement, size, etc. but the online editor was super easy).
Because I felt like I wasn’t getting everything there was to get about memes, I participated in the CLMOOC Make with Me google hangout. A couple ideas that came up in that conversation are interesting to me and I think could be brought into the classroom in meaningful ways:
1. The layers of cultural understanding that are required to get a text-on-picture meme. For the one I made, you would need to know what Pimm’s is, recognize Queen Elizabeth II, have associations about her propriety and social position, have been on my friend Wendy’s deck yesterday enjoying a Pimm’s cup, and then have been a part of the Facebook conversation where we decided that Pimm’s Monday “should be a thing.” I made a pretty localized meme, but all of these visual memes have something to “get” and part of the pleasure is being inside the group that “gets them.” In this way, they are a lot like allusions in literature–they make reference to other cultural artifacts, if you get them you feel like an insider, and to explain them often kills the joy of understanding them.
2. I told a story in the hangout about my stepson who starts 75% of his conversations with “I saw on ifunny…” and then repeats the meme or funny photo he saw. He also used to have written on the white board in his room the goal to “get featured on ifunny,” which in light of our conversation about memes and genre strikes me as a kind of interest-driven genre exploration. It’s easy to place text on a photo, but it takes much more work to write something genuinely funny that works in that genre. He’s awake in the middle of the night, trying out one liners on ifunny to see what hits as a meme (he is not awake in the middle of the night writing assignments for school).
3. As with any visual media, it’s very easy for advertisers and other user of propaganda to co-opt this kind of visual media for their own purposes (as is the case with Shamrocking, described at the end of this explanation of photo fads). Like with old fashioned media literacy, it continues to be important in Digital Media Literacy that we teach students to analyze the media they are consuming and creating, so that they can recognize when they are being sold to or otherwise persuaded.