In this day and age, memes serve as the fundamental unit of information in Internet culture. Defined by Urban Dictionary as “a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means”, this form of visual media combines text and screencaps from various sources, and constantly reinvents itself. In her article “Remediation: A Modern Perspective”, Kristina Desbiens emphasizes the inevitability of remediation. She discusses how media today is created and reinvented incessantly, a trend that is rapidly gaining momentum, and employs examples such as social media and smartphones to illustrate her point as it relates to today’s world. Desbiens states that visual media oversaturates today’s society, a claim that I believe can be expanded upon one step further. I assert that today’s society has become saturated with a very specific kind of visual media: memes.
Much like the “wire” example from Strange Days given in the introduction to Remediation: Understanding New Media, both social media and memes arguably circumvent all forms of mediation and broadcast directly from one consciousness to another. People are empowered through social media to share their (often uninformed and unfiltered) opinions on anything from the latest movie release to a contentious political issue, without any third party editing, transmitting directly to their “friends” and “followers”. In this same way, memes are the product of one person’s thoughts or experiences, and they can flood the Internet without having been given a second thought. This tendency highlights a key point about memes as a form: it is nearly impossible to predict what will become the next big meme, for one cannot foresee what people will find relatable or what will catch on.
A pinnacle of 21st century youth culture, memes are a vehicle for today’s younger generations who feel as though they do not have a voice, to express themselves and to critically analyze their world in a relatively safe way. Through these compilations of text and graphics, people can draw attention to everything from relatable quirky habits to pressing political issues in an often humourous, predominantly visual form, leaving little to be criticized – after all, it’s just for fun. And yet, if one bothers to look further, a wealth of deeper social meaning can be extrapolated from many different memes. This visual form allows us to project cultural and historical moments into humorous contexts in order to examine them from a different perspective and with greater clarity. For instance, the close relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden gave birth to a host of “Joebama” memes that allowed those on the Internet to express their feelings regarding the end of the Obama administration, and their concerns over newly elected President Trump – while avoiding conflict. In this way, people are able to express their opinions and encouraging discussion on a controversial event/issue in a manageable, light-hearted way. Thus, adolescents can explore and discover the depth of media technology’s power in society through the pervasiveness of meme culture. By accessing different social media platforms and using all different interfaces, users can experience first-hand the ubiquity of memes and the influence of social media.
The text Remediation: Understanding New Media further states that “Filmmakers routinely spend tens of millions of dollars to film on location or to recreate period costumes and places in order to make their viewers feel as if they were “really” there”. As Desbiens points out, Bolter and Grusin specify that “immediacy dictates that the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented”. This effect has now transferred into everyday life, for popular social media apps such as Instagram, Periscope and Facebook make millions of dollars off of providing their users with the ability to livestream video to their followers and friends through these apps. This ability for everyday people to broadcast their lives as if they are on a reality show caters to society’s desire for immediacy. Moreover, the capacity to video chat from practically anywhere in the world allows us to be placed almost anywhere and facilitates the constant (arguably over-) sharing of our experiences with others. A good example of this is a video that went viral earlier this year of a man who video-called his parents while he went skydiving, garnering millions of views and shares.
David J. Bolter and Richard Grusin state “This desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors ex film, tv, photography”. Memes mimic this pattern. For instance, when an actor on the children’s show Lazytown was diagnosed with cancer, he launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for treatment and his family. This campaign took off when people started uploading spoof videos of the actor’s now-infamous main song from the show, a melody that is instantly recognizable among today’s youth. With each ridiculous spin on this song the uploader would include a link to the GoFundMe page. As a result of all the traffic, the actor far surpassed his fundraising goal. However, this wasn’t the first instance of the Internet perverting a song in such a way. This pattern closely mimics the trend of perverting scenes from Bee Movie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6iN6VTL7v8), which in turn closely resembles an earlier fascination the internet had with the song “All-Star” by Smash Mouth (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlYys58hsCU), featured on the Shrek soundtrack; a movie that in of itself has spawned countless memes.
The authors also express that “Whenever one medium seems to have convinced viewers of its immediacy, other media try to appropriate that conviction”. This principle is clearly exhibited in popular social media platforms. Snapchat’s niche of allowing viewers to draw and place text over photos that only last for a few seconds, and post to a public “story”, was blatantly appropriated by Instagram when it introduced the unoriginally named new feature “Instagram Stories” that allows users to accomplish the exact same activity. Further, Facebook has now also integrated this feature in their popular Messenger app with the latest update. In this way, “No medium today/no single media event seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces”. This principle is also appropriated in memes, for they comment on recent events as well as older cultural artefacts, such as the subset of memes based around medieval snail paintings.
The simple fact is this: memes are how the youth of today face the reality in which they live. Whether it is universal neurotic tendencies through dark Kermit memes, their ideal man in starterpack memes, or their political opinions in countless U.S. election memes, this medium has become a vital method of expression. You may not be able to take them seriously, but then again, you’re not meant to.
David J. Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Introduction: The Double Logic of
Remediation” in Remediation: Understanding New Media
Emme. “Meme.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., 10 Dec. 2003. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.