This too shall pass~
Or will it????
So, in the course of working on my thesis, I’ve read a lot of articles and research studies about memes. Some articles focus on the spread and replication of memes through a system while others focus on the sociocultural impact of the meme and its semantic and communicative applications. Very boring stuff. Not the topic–the writing on the topic.
It’s almost like mimetic researchers have something to prove…
Anyway, rather than bore you with some of those useful but admittedly snooze-worthy sources, I thought I’d share one of the more “fun” articles I came across in my research on memes. This article by Lauren Michele Jackson, published in The Atlantic, explores why some memes are more fit than others and tend to have a longer shelf-life (i.e. remain in the public consciousness longer). More, this article looks at “meme-death” and what elements a successful meme needs to have in order to propagate in or current social system.
Though not an academic article per se, Jackson does draw upon mimetic research to define the internet meme as well as to critique the antiquated definition (calling Dawkins (1976) concept “deliberately capacious”–which is fair). To Jackson, though, it seems more apt to define the current Internet meme as a kind of joke. Jackson states, “memes as they’re popularly discussed nowadays often index something much more specific—a phrase or set of text, often coupled with an image, that follows a certain format within which user adjustments can be made before being redistributed to amuse others. Also known as: a joke”. While memes often inspire humor and laughter, that is not the main reason for why Jackson compares the meme to a joke. It is the shared quality of jokes and memes to “uniquely and deliberately make depth inconsequential to their appreciation” that Jackson cites as the main reason for why the two mediums are comparable. Essentially, counter to every proud mimetic theorist out there, Jackson believes that the most defining quality of the meme is that its meaning is shallow. Or, at the very least, it does not matter if a meme means anything deep or profound; people are not thinking that hard about it and that is the point. As reiterated multiple times in this article: jokes just aren’t funny anymore once explained. Once a meme has been explained or becomes so popular that it is no longer popular, it dies.
Jackson’s thoughts on the meme and a meme’s life are quite interesting. While I disagree with her on the “shallowness” of meme’s meanings, I do find myself agreeing with the idea that more successful memes are ones whose meanings can be easily co-opted. Essentially, the template can be recycled and the meaning swapped out for another but the impact still remains. This, to me, indicates that there has to be some kind of inherent, deep-seated meaning in a template that underlies any superimposed nuance. That inherent meaning, I believe, is dependent upon the cultural context in which the meme is dependent. This is something Jackson seems to agree with me on. According to Jackson, “Memes capture and maintain people’s attention in a given moment because something about that moment provides a context that makes that meme attractive”. Once that context passes, it’s time for new memes. If a meme is not attuned to public sentiment at a certain time, it is no longer relevant.
Jackson ends her article by stating, “We create and pass on the things that call to our current experiences and situations. Memes are us.” Which I think it a very provocative idea. When memes are looked at as extensions of ourselves rather than disconnected means of communication–removed, to some degree, from us–I believe memes become easier to understand. At least, it’s easier to accept the complexity and multiplicity of this emergent medium when the human element is introduced into the conversation rather than viewed separately. The relationship between human and meme becomes more symbiotic than parasitic.
But, that’s just what I think.
Let me know if you have a different perspective. I’d love to hear it~
~Till next time~