Archives for posts with tag: LOLcats
‘Success Kid’ – with its various slogans – has been an enduring meme of recent years. | Know Your Meme

‘Success Kid’ – with its various slogans – has been an enduring meme of recent years. | Know Your Meme

Nothing defines our use of the internet as clearly as the concept of the meme (pronounced “meem”).

Every day, millions of people laugh at LOLcats, dog shaming, and music videos without music, while others mock injustice, support marriage equality, poke fun at NSA surveillance, or call out racism.

Virally shared “nuggets of cultural currency” such as these are examples of “memetics”, an important mechanism of meaning that pre-dates the internet but is now central to the the internet’s rising creative comment culture.

LOLcats pre-dated the Internet. The left image was taken by Harry Whittier Frees in 1905. The right is ‘Happy Cat’, the first LOLcat, from 2007 |  Wikipedia / Something Awful

LOLcats pre-dated the Internet. The left image was taken by Harry Whittier Frees in 1905. The right is ‘Happy Cat’, the first LOLcat, from 2007 | Wikipedia / Something Awful

Wow history

Early in the 1920s, the biologist Richard Semon used the term “mnemes” in theorising biologically inheritable memory.

Richard Dawkins, in his 1974 book The Selfish Gene, took a different tack, shortening the Greek term “mimētḗs” (imitator) to coin “meme” as a cultural analogue to the biological gene: a “self-replicating unit of information”.

Yo Dawg; Yo Dawg Dawkins. | Know Your Meme

Yo Dawg; Yo Dawg Dawkins. | Know Your Meme

Genes, Dawkins argued, are subject to the forces of evolution: variation, mutation, competition and inheritance.

On similar principles, certain ideas seem to rise and fall in cultures; the base concepts of art, religion and politics are memes, as are more fleeting trends, fads and fashions.

First day on the Internet Kid; Doge; First day on the Internet Doge. | KnowYour Meme

First day on the Internet Kid; Doge; First day on the Internet Doge. | KnowYour Meme

Such replication

Not all memes are successful, and even “new” memes often bear traces of those that have passed.

Nor are memes static – rather they have three properties by which they evolve existing variations:

  • Intertextuality. Memes reference other memes or other concepts, e.g. the Joseph Decreaux meme mashes up 18th century art and imagined vernacular with gangsta rap vernacular.

    Joseph Decreux 18th Century-Rap mashup meme. | Know Your Meme

    Joseph Decreux 18th Century-Rap mashup meme. | Know Your Meme

  • Indexicality. An element in one meme can be used to comment on many situations. “Exploitable” memes such as Disaster Girl can be overlaid on to any picture of a disaster.

    Disaster Girl exploitable; Original exploit; Disaster Girl at the London riots. | Know Your Meme

    Disaster Girl exploitable; Original exploit; Disaster Girl at the London riots. | Know Your Meme

  • Templatability. Memes have recognisable structures with spaces for new content, e.g. “I am in your base, killing your doodz” becomes “I am in your [Noun 1], [Verb-ing] your [Noun 2],” to be reused in multiple contexts.

    I am in your base killing your d00dz

    I am in your base | Know Your Meme

A meme may be created by an individual or an institution deliberately (many marketing companies now strive to create viral content) or, as often as not, an accidental image, turn-of-phrase or concept will be exploited by a savvy netizen (as was the case for Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe).

So internet

Genes rely on their hosts for transmission, and memes are no exception: in creating the internet it turns out that we have developed the ultimate meme hothouse.

In danah boyd’s terms, the internet is a “networked public” that has four features highly conducive to making and spreading memes:

  • Replicability. Digital objects are infinitely reproducible and exploitable across a range of platforms.
  • Searchability. Finished versions of memes as well as raw materials and templates are easily found.
  • Scalability. Digital objects are created for a particular audience but with the knowledge that they can spread to an unknowably large audience wherever the internet is available.
  • Persistence. Although individual digital objects may not last as long as analogue objects, they are infinitely transferable and storable in many locations.
You’re doing it wrong. | funnyjunk

You’re doing it wrong. | funnyjunk

Variations on a theme is the name of the game with memes, as attested to by the huge number of memes posted every day at user-generated content sites such as 4chan and Reddit, and categorised at sites such as the Cheezburger Network.

Engines providing both the raw materials and editing capabilities to rapidly produce new instances of common memes have even been developed at sites such as memegenerator.net and imgur and Cheezburger’s Rage Comic LOLBuilder, so that even the technically-challenged can use a meme to express something – as long as they understand the template.

Keep X and Carry Y original; Keep X and Carry Y used correctly; Keep X and Carry Y used incorrectly. | Know Your Meme

Keep X and Carry Y original; Keep X and Carry Y used correctly; Keep X and Carry Y used incorrectly. | Know Your Meme

You can even find sites such as Know Your Meme that actively track, research, and report on the genealogy, forms, and popularity of memes.

Much important

One might be forgiven, at this point, for wondering why memes matter beyond entertainment.

Understanding memes is an important way to keep a finger on current trends or the appeal of long term trends, but more importantly memes tell us about new literacies, how people understand crises and how they attempt to effect social change through movements such as Occupy and Anonymous, so-called slacktivism, or electoral engagement.

2013 Australian Commonwealth election anti-Coalition memes: Australia needs Tony Abbot / Tony Stark fake newspaper front page; Lampooning the Coalition’s NBN policy. | Google Images

2013 Australian Commonwealth election anti-Coalition memes: Australia needs Tony Abbot / Tony Stark fake newspaper front page; Lampooning the Coalition’s NBN policy. | Google Images

User-generated content is the key concept here because memes are indicative of a change from last century’s passive read-only culture to an active read-write or produsage-oriented culture, in which very few resources are needed to broadcast a message to the entire world–as Cory Bernardi has discovered.

Petty as they may seem, then, memes have value and we must protect them as a form of expression when governments and corporations attempt to chill fair use of “copyright” materials via treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.


Anti-TPP image that Wikileaks used to publicise its leak of the secretly-negotiated IP chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. | Google Images

Anti-TPP image that Wikileaks used to publicise its leak of the secretly-negotiated IP chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. | Google Images

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Related

Alongside serious reportage of bad news, you’ve probably come across at least one crisis meme that treats that bad news with a dose of ghoulish humour.

The ‘I don’t always …’ meme using London Riots imagery. | Know Your Meme

The ‘I don’t always …’ meme using London Riots imagery. | Know Your Meme

Just hours after the Daily Mail printed the image of a London looter the version above appeared.

It’s funny, timely, and was rapidly shared online. Similar images can be found for other recent bad news, such as the Norwegian mass killings or the US debt crisis.

An example of a bad-news meme. | Know Your Meme

An example of a bad-news meme. | Know Your Meme

Why does internet social commentary take these precise forms? And why does that matter?

Templating

We are adept at treating ideas as having two levels: structure and content. This gives us the ability to express an infinite amount of ideas with a finite language. Some idea structures, though, are particularly reusable.

Memes exploit the structural properties of cultural objects as templatable. This growing awareness of templatability is the key to why internet social commentary looks the way it does.

Image macros

The images above owe their existence to the image macro: “O RLY?”, which appeared some time in 2001.

The ‘O Rly?’ meme. | Know Your Meme

The ‘O Rly?’ meme. | Know Your Meme

O RLY was popular because the combination of the anthropomorphism and large Impact typeface allowed for the easy expression of incredulousness.

O RLY also had an easily understood templatable structure: superimposed text on an image.

Snowclones

In 2004, Agoraphilia blogger Glen Whitman coined the term “snowclone”. It refers to sentences such as “grey is the new black”, in which the nouns (“grey” and “black”) can be replaced, formulaically, by any two other nouns, such as: “30 is the new 20”. The template in this case being: “X is the new Y.”

The looting meme image above is a snowclone. The template slots are the midshot of a person attempting to look cool or dangerous, the textual set-up at the top and the punchline at the bottom.

It is based on the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” advertising campaign. The campaign featured a central male figure and tagline: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis”.

‘I don’t always …’ Dos Equis campaign imagery. | Know Your Meme

‘I don’t always …’ Dos Equis campaign imagery. | Know Your Meme

This is precisely the kind of phrase that lends itself to becoming a snowclone (“I don’t always X, but when I do, Y”).

Satirists can use either the original image and superimpose satirical text or superimpose the text on an appropriately striking recent image.

The above and below “I don’t always …” snowclones appeared immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in May.

The ‘I don’t always …’ meme using Obama imagery. | Reddit

The ‘I don’t always …’ meme using Obama imagery. | Reddit

Exploitables

A different form of meme uses “exploitable” image elements, in which a striking element from one image is superimposed on to another.

The original “Disaster Girl” meme shows a young girl with a devilish look in the extreme foreground of a picture showing a burning house.

The original Disaster Girl image. | Know Your Meme

The original Disaster Girl image. | Know Your Meme

The face of the girl is easily superimposed on to other disasters, such as the burning shops and residences in Croydon, South London, during the London Riots.

The Disaster Girl meme applied to the London Riots. | Reddit

The Disaster Girl meme applied to the London Riots. | Reddit

The use of Disaster Girl reinforces the meme itself and its use as a rapidly deployable comment on the situation.

Combining templates

Meme templates can be combined with other images that have achieved viral popularity, providing social commentary by linking concepts.

One part of the image comment below is the 1939 British “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, produced to boost morale at the start of the second world war.

The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster from 1939. | Know Your Meme

The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster from 1939. | Know Your Meme

This is combined with the “Y U No” rage comic illustration of a plump sweating face with a moustache, combined with non-native English, imploring someone to do something (“why you no X?”).

The “Y U No” man’s question indicates confusion and worrying about the rioting from those who hold a particular stereotypical viewpoint of polite, stiff-upper-lip, British society.

The ‘Y U NO’ meme combined with the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. | Reddit

The ‘Y U NO’ meme combined with the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. | Reddit

Meme templates are often combined to comment on internet comment culture itself.

The “Scumbag Steve” meme is often used to illustrate anti-social practices.

Scumbag Steve. | Know Your Meme

Scumbag Steve. | Know Your Meme

One offshoot of Scumbag Steve is Scumbag Brain, which purports to comment on one’s own anti-social thoughts.

In the example below, this is used to comment on the comparative amounts of attention and sadness given to the Norway killings versus Amy Winehouse’s death.

Scumbag Brain: sad about Amy Winehouse, not Norway. | Reddit

Scumbag Brain: sad about Amy Winehouse, not Norway. | Reddit

Meme generators

The generation of memes is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Several sites, such as Meme Generator and Rage Comic Builder provide all the artwork and creation tools required to create new versions of existing memes.

Such memes often take the form of a pinwheel background with a photograph in the center.

Thematically they centre on bad advice. Recent meme generator variants have had a political leaning, using Barack Obama and American economist Paul Krugman to give bad advice about the US debt crisis.

Bad Advice Krugman. | Know Your Meme

Bad Advice Krugman. | Know Your Meme

The pros of comment culture

Image macros, such as those above, represent the rise of a very visible internet comment culture. Axel Bruns terms this growing phenomenon produsage.

American academic Lawrence Lessing calls it the Read/Write culture, in opposition to the passive Read/Only pre-internet culture.

Whatever we call it, internet comment culture is a reinvigoration of an active public voice. It’s a combination of popular culture and folk culture, appropriating and mashing together objects and ideas from media industries and objects and ideas created from whole cloth.

These crisis memes may trivialise, or appear ghoulish, simplistic and/or self-congratulatory. But they are ours.

Indeed, the London riots have now themselves generated several new memes, two of which combine some quite important political issues. The most popular is the meme showing a looter stealing one of the rings of the upcoming London Olympic Games.

Looting the Olympic logo. | Know Your Meme

Looting the Olympic logo. | Know Your Meme

But perhaps more important is loot-alikes. This meme involves finding an image of a looter (CCTV, mugshots etc.) and placing next to it a very similar looking image of another person, preferably a famous person.

What’s fascinating about this is that it is an ironic comment on the UK Police using social media to identify looters by posting their images.

Indeed, many of the loot-alike images are those posted by the UK Police.

The cons

We shouldn’t look to internet comment culture for a utopian future.

Memes are by nature very difficult to predict, control and, if necessary, eradicate. Further, as much as we might want to see a rise in active, producer, read/write culture, the use of copyright materials in such memes represents an unresolved issue.

Perhaps the most important question we should be asking about online comment culture is: whose culture is it?

At the very least it is US-centric, potentially continuing the claimed trend of US cultural imperialism through media.

But might it also represent the beginnings of a split between the online and offline worlds? Groups have always demonstrated their cohesion through restricted code, group-specific words and ideas.

Many of the memes above hold more meaning for those in the know. Might that knowledge be used to develop divisive cultural principles?

Perhaps Philosoraptor will discover the answer.

Help us Philosoraptor, you’re our only hope. | Know Your Meme

Help us Philosoraptor, you’re our only hope. | Know Your Meme

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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