The Problem With Memes
This just really needs to be shared.
Ah, yes. Internet sociology is my favourite food group.
There are very few memes that I will use because of this.
I thought this was going to address something completely different than what it did [inherent social repetition and acceptance of memetic racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia in memes], and I’m not really sure I agree especially with what they did try to argue, especially arguing both art and memes could ONLY be consumed within a specific cultural context with a specific background socio-culturally or historically — which long opinion short: Is simply wildly not true and completely inaccurate to how most people consume art, high, low, memetic, or otherwise.
I’m willing to bet most people recognize the Mona Lisa but can’t give a detailed background on the painting, it’s original context or intent for context, or explain what’s referenced or not in it. It’s also one of the most famous and well recognized paintings in the world.
Sorry but I do think this guy is a pretentious hipster, although probably not for the reasons he might expect? There were points I agreed with but I don’t think this touched on the real problem I have with a lot of memes.
Like the commenter above, when he mentioned how memes function as a marker of exclusivity (the being-in-the-know of the joke), I thought he was going to go into memes as tools of exclusion/oppression within communities. Because they really, really are. (See: all of Reddit.) But he seems, I don’t know, kind of fine with the idea of wanting a community to be exclusive as a general rule, and I just don’t feel like I trust that as a means of building healthy networks of people. Because we have a lot of data that proves that’s basically horseshit.
To clarify what I’m getting at, I’m going to specifically critque his Kate Beaton example because she’s one of the references from the video that I actually get. (Am not nor ever have been in the know. In college I discovered that I knew fewer rap lyrics than, get this, my Latin professor. Because he cited NWA for comparison while we were reading Ovid. And it was awesome. But still: here is the loop, and here I am, out of it.) I don’t think Kate Beaton’s objection in those screencapped tweets is that too many people know about her comics, or are talking about her comics, or that too many people find her comics funny. I think the objection is that people were screencapping them, removing the text, and passing them around without payment or attribution or even the pretense of fair use (as defined by US law, because her publisher is in the US even though Kate Beaton herself is Canadian). She is objecting to her personal artwork being stolen and repurposed as a meme, without her consent. But issues of consent do not enter into the narrator’s argument at all — though that is one of, possibly THE, biggest ethical problem with the creation of memes. (Example: romance author Carly Phillips, whose author photo was taken without her consent and used as the basis for the meme Sheltering Suburban Mom.) Kate Beaton spoke out against the demoralizing feeling of being a creator whose stolen work appears on a meme-machine site, and this narrator appropriates her experience (and screencaps of her tweets) not to talk about how it violated her rights, but how she’s less cool now that she’s gone mainstream.
(Sidebar: does anyone else find it interesting that he cited Kate Beaton here but not the Oatmeal? Because the Oatmeal has a long history of critiquing precisely this thing. But with images, not easily screencapped tweets. And it strikes me that repurposing or appropriating women’s images/stories/content is culturally easier than repurposing men’s, for the same reason we feel in meatspace that women’s bodies are public property, while men’s are inviolate. But I may be overthinking this part.)
What also bothers me about this video is that the narrator is not critiquing the creation or use of memes per se — he is merely upset that memes become well-known outside their original context. He’s upset that they no longer serve to automatically and obviously exclude people who, for whatever reason, were not present at the moment of that meme’s inception. (And using a picture of happy teen girls to symbolize the “lowest common denominator” is a total dick move, btw.) What about younger people new to an online space? What about people who’ve been marginalized and have only just gotten access to the community? (Hello, disabled people! Hello, rural communities that only recently got internet access!) How do we gain this embodied cultural capital that he seems so insistent upon, when having to learn about it — via things like KnowYourMeme.com — means it is not authentic and therefore does not count?
I’m also troubled by the moment when, in discussing the Mona Lisa, he tries to distinguish between people who merely “own” a painting, and people who “truly consume” it. By his own admission, he cannot truly consume the Mona Lisa, since he wasn’t there to experience the context of its original creation and meaning. And yet he’s using it as a cultural marker, an example to make his point clearer — oh, the irony! This smacks of the same sense of cultural ownership we see in all the Fake Geek Girl nonsense, and the idea that women cannot or should not write sff or speculative fiction. It’s the sense that the masses are Ruining It For Those Of Us Who Count. You know who else feels that way? Sundown towns. Who made this guy the arbiter of who’s in and who’s out?