exercise: Taking inspiration from an image or idea you’ve researched, create your own photographic response to an internet meme. This may be something original, or your own interpretation of an existing meme. It might be funny or profound, but it should make people want to look at it and share it.
Having used Facebook rather extensively as interface for my final assignments, I over time sought out various meme pages and explored some of the forms in which memes are generated, repeated, altered, and circulated.
— What follows is a fairly narrow selection of the memes that interest me and the sites that post them. In that, many of them are political, are at points offensive, and at other points targeting a rather particular audience (like Freud Quotes, Shit Academics Say or Zlazloj.zizek, which is Slavoj Zizek extensive experiments in social media form). The other type of memes I was interested in are those that are ironic takes on both memes and the wider context of YOLO (you only live ones), these are the inspirobot.me and Vapid Daily.
Politics, narcissism and social media practice
Zlazloj.zizek, Zizek’s page (and numerous other pages like I would prefer not to, Disturbing Books, Freud Quotes seem all fairly closely interconnected, often reposting each others posts, so for many of the memes, there is a iteration and redundancy in my feed, which reinforces, repeats, reminds).
Zizek in particular explores the edges of taste, the futility of love (which I take to be an attack on current strands of feminist politics around care, self-care and a renewed focus on social reproduction) and above all the scope for narcissism in social media form. These two are examples of this:
Both reference popular films (It and Fifty Shades of Grey), depict key stills from these and insert Zizek as protagonist: as monstrous clown Pennywise (who is very much to be feared) and as the subject of Christian Grey’s unconventional desire. In both these scenes, the meme works because it requires an audience’s familiarity with the plot development, the actuality of appropriate fear vis-a-vis Pennywise and that Grey’s desires are of sexual domination (and having a female submissive partner). The first, Pennywise, meme, subverts the plotline by altering the text (in written, not spoken form), the second one does so by inserting a new still, of Zizek in bed, sitting proud in front of a picture of Stalin.
The joke? The dangers of communism as spectre and Zizek as controversial character.
Bottom Leftist Memes does something rather different. It is one of the few pages on FB that I have encountered that explicitly discusses (gay and submissive) sex and desire within a left anarchist political context. Its content features often the page admin’s own graphic drawings, besides some reposting, some other memes and some political commentary. The posts for some time feature a text description of the images which is thoughtful, hilarious and a tech commentary on the inability of FB to provide appropriate text captioning for its image (i.e. there is a commentary about accessibility contained in these.
I use an example which isn’t sexually explicit, for others, go and visit the page.
The post reads:
CW discussion of violence; poorly drawn Nazi symbolism]
What are you getting so worked up about
[ Image description: Drawings of a person wearing a red swastika armband and heiling; a person with a 1488 forehead tattoo; a sharply-dressed guy with a suit and tie and a Pepe the Frog pin; a person wearing a KKK hood; somebody waving a Kekistan flag; some kid wearing a Pepe mask and holding an anime girl body pillow; and a guy wearing a red baseball cap that I was too lazy to write MAGA on but you know that’s what it’s supposed to be. Text reads: “Hahaha don’t you feel silly? 6 out of these 7 “quote-unquote” “”””NAZIS”””” are only joking, and only one of them would actually beat you to death with a baseball bat in real life. Have fun guessing which one! ]
Vapid inspirations and artificial intelligence
Vapid Daily is a page that composes and circulates vapid inspirational quotes (not) on a daily basis.
I only see these occasionally in my feed, their overblown visuals and the trashy font type generally make me smile, the text often is painfully accurate. They are clearly carefully constructed as such.
Late June I came across a bot that is designed to provide inspirational quotes, inspirobot.me . I came across it as there as a fair bit of media coverage as to the nonsensical, often offensive nature of its inspirational quotes, of getting it wrong how a meme, an inspiration works.
I generated a few quotes here and there, and over the past fortnight started to do so more systematically, with a friend setting a shared facebook album to collect (via screenshot a few of these). The album is called bat rum (once), a word play on bot romance, as the aspect of romance, desire and social interaction was one that initially interested me most. With some of the memes being so offensive and rude, I soon set up a second, more private album called bot romance (the m files), m standing for misogyny, morals and mother (?). My friend and I would generally share our finds via messenger, I would often upload them to be shared with her and my friends. A comment a few days ago pointed to the narcissist, individualised, neoliberal logic of many of the quotes, but also that our posting was needing a trigger warning: you are about to be hit on the head with some neoliberal inspirational sledgehammer. This exchange led me to the following as GIF (though the format is strictly an MP4, a video, but it consists of two images, one a myriad of inspirobot images, too small to be read, yet relentless, the other one a simple phone drawing about the need to be inspired.
Ironically, while each of the inspirobot memes gets some likes, noone has liked my meme so far 😮 — or: perhaps not ironically but fairly fittingly.