What is a meme?
We'll start the course by drawing up a definition and way of identifying and characterizing meme. Here's an entry point.
Memes, as we're looking at them, are units of cultural meaning, created and carried by artifacts that can be readily duplicated, modified, and re-distributed.
Categories of actions can be used as memes: Taking and posting a selfie has the potential of being a meme. Creating cat-based image macros is a meme. Planking was a meme, and dabbing at a socially inappropriate moment and posting it might be an emerging meme.
Specific artifacts can also be used as memes or as materials for creating memes. Variations of the Gangnam Style music video made that video a meme.
Memes are not the same as virals, which we'll also look at. Virals are readily spreadable but spread without significant variation. Memes spread by variation and change. (Shifman)
Memes were not born on the internet, but the net is a channel for spreading them. Memes were not born digital, either, but digitalization makes it easy to create and modify memes. It gives them fecundity, and susceptibility - two of the characteristics Shifman and others consider essential for memes to spread.
From a more interesting angle, internet memes are the stuff of folklore. The ability to interpret and create memes - read them culturally - has become a part of digital literacy practice.
For this course, we're considering internet memes as artifacts of participatory culture. Artifacts in the sense that they are sets of objects we can consider, and can see change. Culture, in that memes are public. They arise in a culture, are transformed and distributed in that culture. They demonstrate the social attributes of the culture in which they circulate. They are composed in accordance with social rules and using social resources. They are created, consumed, and circulated for social purposes. The image of dabbing at the swearing in ceremony - an artifact - illustrates these ideas.
- an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
- a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
- Memes Harken back to Pre-Internet, NPR, 6 Jan 2017.
- Jumping Project at flickr
- What defines a meme? Smithsonian Magazine. Article adapted from The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick. 2011.
Knobel, M, and C Lankshear. “Online Memes, Affinities, and Cultural Production.” A New Literacies Sampler. Eds. M Knobel, and C Lankshear. A new literacies sampler. 2007. 199-228.