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What’s in a meme?

Bill Shields | Thursday, March 1, 2012

Good Guy Greg. Scumbag Steve. Courage Wolf ­— we find resonance with these and other characters and meaningful expression in creating their episodes.

A quiet citizen can now find a voice in his editorial cartoon about “Scumbag Obama” and people can use video clips of Hitler to make their anger about dining hall trays known (yes, Hitler has become the voice of the people once again, thanks to the Internet).

Like Seinfeld or Carlin, our gallery of macro-characters has shown us that the sharing of trivial things can make for a profound connective experience indeed. And the promise of anonymity gives meme authors the potential to surpass even great comedians in sharing the unshareable and speaking the unspeakable.

Unfortunately, memes’ unique merit as a form of personal expression also becomes their critical weakness. Their content and the rhetoric of their very existence is dehumanizing and impersonal.

TVTropes has become infamous for implicitly arguing — and proving — that everything under the sun is easily compartmentalized into a highly limited number of categories and that everything you see, do or think has been seen, done and thought before.

Memes have the same effect on everyday life: besides assuming that moods, personalities and economic classes can be stereotyped, they do so with gusto.

After all, every caption job within a meme ultimately rehashes its core joke, usually a certified-funny caricature. This is why meme creators are virtually guaranteed laughs, but only if they play by the rules.

There is no room for either deviation or nuance. Eventually, all of Insanity Wolf’s comics sound like they were written by the same person. The quality-guarantee mechanism behind the images is also its downfall as a sustainable means of real expression.

So I implore you, dear reader: stop creating memes and simply express yourself as yourself.

A few months ago, we rallied to defeat congressional bills that we feared would chill the liberties we enjoy online. I think we’d all agree that everyone has the right to his/her own voice.

I just think it’s foolish that he should use a fictional penguin to raise it.

Bill Shields


Stanford Hall

Mar. 1