In short, they can change things. I think social issues and identity politics have really found their way into the mainstream in part thanks to memes. The discussion of street harassment or BLM comes to mind. As for reinforcing the social order, I rather think that the most successful memes subvert social norms and give voice to those frustrated with these norms (as Lauren for example mentioned, the Netflix and Chill meme).
I love this! I think contemporary meme culture is definitely dominated by Black online communities like Black Twitter, Black Vine and Black Snapchat. It has really replaced the “white-font-over-funny-picture” meme that was popular some years ago and is more associated with white male Redditors. You’re so right about the image of the white techbro. The mainstream seems to fail to (again) credit the Black community with this cultural phenomenon, like the crying Michael Jordan meme is so popular now and yet many white millennials I know have never heard of “Black Twitter.”Great, great write-up, thanks so much!
Interesting post, Virginia. I believe your closing observation - about GenXers identifying with their younger selves - actually gets very much to the crux of the matter. For me, what Stranger Things has exposed - at least in part - is the degree to which youth / teenage life was so heavily coded in film and TV of the 1980s, and that these codes remain in play today, thus functioning for both nostalgic adults and younger viewers alike. While social phenomena like rites-of-passage have always existed in human cultures, the modern concept of ‘adolescence’– as a category – is itself still relatively young. Though prior media ‘modellings’ of youth culture existed – e.g. Rebel Without A Cause, etc. – I’d suggest that the broader cultural understanding of teenage life that we still work with today coalesced in the audio-visual cultures of the 1980s. In my view, it was primarily in the mainstream films of the 1980s that the most prevalent and influential codes for this still emerging category of adolescence came into being. And, despite seismic cultural change in the intervening decades, those codes largely still remain intact. Digital culture has not so much altered how those codes work as enhanced and extended them.
Nevertheless, I believe you’re entirely right: the identificatory structures in Stranger Things are more complex than they were in the older films that the show references. However, I think the codes that inform those structures remain largely the same. In a weird way, the nostalgia at work in Stranger Things is a nostalgia for something that has never faded from view. In some ways we never left the 1980s. It’s always there beneath the surface of our reality – just like the ‘upside-down’ alternative reality in Stranger Things. (Which might just be another way of saying there are a lot of stalled adolescents in the world.)
Very interesting post, Virginia. I’m intrigued by the cross-generational popularity of the series, particularly its appeal to both GenXers and Millennials. The 80s pastiche of Stranger Things, I’d argue, appeals to both categories in two different yet compatible ways. The GenXers have a much more personal nostalgic relationship to the cultural content and style recreated by the Duffer Brothers; their head nods and innumerable allusions to 80s pop culture achieves the goal of nostalgic reflection, while it also gives them room to explore the narrative structure and traditionally static characters of the era.
The millennial appeal is a bit more bizarre. Outside the realm of memory and nostalgia I believe the show has mastered pacing for binge-watching audiences, a practice of television consumption championed by twenty-somethings. Yet, there is a nostalgic appeal for the younger generation that never experienced the 80s (an appeal probably linked to the amount of Joy Division t-shirts I see worn by my generation on a daily basis). I’d love to explore this appeal in greater detail and hear others’ thoughts. My first reaction sees Millennial’s nostalgia more like the nostalgia we would find in fairy tales or mythic storytelling, a less experiential, personal recollection and a more romanticized longing for a time never lived.
The universality and timelessness of the Garfield character and his everyday situations have been mined for humor. Perhaps Garfield is now a contextually blank canvas, suitable for repurposing. Lots of culture works this way.
Now I wonder if meme-makers are merely exploiting the familiarity (and former popularity) of the character as they search for ways hook audience attention. I also get the sense that the Garfield meme makers are engaging in playful transgressiveness by disrupting people’s warm-and-fuzzy feelings towards the character.
My love for memes spurs me into an immediate, Yes! Memes can change the world.
However, I think it’s worth allowing some wiggle room between meme creation and intentionality; or also, I don’t believe your last two questions necessarily need be exclusive to each other. A lot of memes (broadly considered) begin simply from a communal laugh or knowing look - such as your example above - and then end up looking rather subversive in retrospect. Other examples include hashtags like #ABCReports that began as a response to ABC News’ investigative style report on twerking, citing Miley Cyrus as its architect. The hashtag took many vernacular staples of black culture and tested out headlines (ex: “Half on a Baby: Can You Afford It? An Economic Perspective”; “‘Smacking The Black Off You’: Where violence and vitiligo meet. A two-part special”). In hindsight, we can certainly interpret this community response as subversive, but in the moment - as I can attest - it was all really just good fun.
I do think a lot of memes have a tendency to curve to the politics of respectability that govern communities, but also just from unstudied observation notice a prevalence of “immoral” memes. Memes permitting taboo, or at least unproductive social behavior. Like spending a day in front of Netflix, arriving late, eating poorly, overspending etc. These memes generally acknowledge the “correct” or normative behavior, but the punchline so to speak is in side-stepping it. But whether to call these type of memes subversive is unsure, these are not radical denouncements of the norm but a - dare I say it - safe textual space to admit imperfection, laugh, and as you say, ‘get back to our lives’.
Hi. For years, I’ve used that video in my presentation on the subject of autism, which I present to middle schoolers. Recently, I found that the link no longer works. I found the video here and no place else. Do you own it, or did you get permission to share it? I’m trying to find out how I can get permission to use it again. Thanks.
The FU 2016 campaign immediately reminded me of the Andy Kaufman documentary I’m From Hollywood. Everyone knows that professional wrestling is fake, but what happens when a comedian enters the ring? Is Kaufman simply making fun of wrestling and its fans or is he taking the sport to its highest level? Then, what does it mean to make a documentary about Kaufman’s wrestling career? In the process Kaufman is making fun of professional wrestling, it’s fans, and the South, but he is also thumbing his nose at smug outsiders who laugh with him because most of the people being made fun of (particularly the wrestling community) are fully in on the joke.
In writing this I am realizing that Kevin Spacey is not the Andy Kaufman in this scenario, Trump is. John Oliver plays with this idea in his Trump / The Kid Who Ran for President comparison.
As Pete suggests, branding has been a major part of political campaigns for decades, if not for much longer. The constant stream and ability to evolve seems to me the significant shift. The feedback on social media theoretically suggests a more democratic process. Based on thousands of responses from the public, campaigns can change their stance or approach. The response tweets Tess points to though do not reassure me of the promise of this democratic possibility.
Thanks for the post Pete!
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If anyone is interested in our motivations you can read this blog post about how we see the current trends in educational communication and why we think there’s a need for a modern communication platform dedicated to education (https://medium.com/ublend-co/engineering-the-university-experience-of-th...)
Anders Co-founder, Ublend