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TEH MOAR U NO: AN ESSAY Internet Memes and Why They Don't Work In The Culture Industry CMNS

110-D124 Professor: Gary McCarron TA: Matt Greaves Submitted By: Kelly Burns Student #: 301165111 November 23, 2011

Introduction: Challenge Accepted Internet memes are an interesting beast. Not so long ago, they were something limited to those in the know, to the people who are so integrated into internet culture that it is somewhat of a second language to them. Now, in what seems like a networked age that won't stop growing, internet memes are far more common and popular than they ever were just a few years ago. Internet memes are almost a counter culture of their own, having originally been part of a community that few people knew about before the art form turned into a global phenomenon. Having experienced both products of the mainstream media, and the world (or, I suppose, the dark underbelly) of internet culture, memes come across as a form of popular communication - that is, content that spreads from the groups of those with little power and influence, that moves to the mainstream and becomes widely known. Internet memes, through the very way that they came to be, are a challenge to the products of the culture industry that we are faced with day to day.

F*cking Memes, How Do They Work? Before getting into the good stuff, which is the discussion about how memes are a counterbalance to the culture industry that the Frankfurt School scholars have proposed, it would probably be prudent to clarify what an internet meme actually is. Merriam-Webster defines a meme as "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." In more detail, the term "memes" was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 "to stand for items that are reproduced by imitation rather than genetically... They get copied, one person copying from another" (qtd. in Millikan 16). In other words, memetics studies how cultural dialogue and information is propagated through something akin to natural selection, which in this case, is popularity (Gage). Memes can be anything ranging from pop songs, viral videos, iconic photographs and movies, or really any piece of culture that moves quickly and gains popularity within a society, by the previous definition. However, for the purpose of this paper, internet memes are the focus. According to Encyclopedia Dramatica, [An internet] meme

is created by the reaction to, not the invention of, a subject... In fact, the best memes are created by accident and are the result of a particularly lulzworthy image being seen by the right people at the right time. In other words, what might be considered a good meme was not necessarily produced, so much as it was an accident made by the creator. This includes, but is by no means limited to: image macros (most iconically, LOLcats), catchphrases ("I see what you did, there," and variations, for example), rage guy comics, Pedobear, animated gif images - really, this list could go on, likely for more pages than I am allotted for this essay. To summarize both versions of the origin of the word "meme", internet memes are cultural tidbits that are spread through users creating, re-creating, and sharing content on the internet. The interesting thing is that, despite memes as we know them being a product of the web, which is a place known to most as where the nerds, the geeks, or better as a more academic description, groups on the margins exist and congregate, internet memes are becoming more and more mainstream. What I mean by this, is that people who may not have known what a meme was 12 months ago, or even now, can look at a image macro of a cat with a funny caption and identify it as a LOLcat. This is why internet memes can be considered a form of popular communication.

The main distinction between the creation of internet memes versus the creation of other consumable content is in the way it is produced. Where, as seen previously, mainstream or mass media works in a top down fashion, being produced by the culture industries in our society, memes are different; They are an example of popular communication. Popular communication, by its definition, has a trickle effect from the ground up, has an indefinite number of contributors, and a varied audience size (Brophy). Kelly addresses this more specifically, describing how internet memes seem to be spawned in online communities that people go to in order to escape from mainstream culture. Content is then created within those groups that can have such an impact and become so popular, that it radiates out and begins to have an effect on the mainstream (qtd. in Brown). This is a very powerful phenomenon, because memes become part of our lives through this process of growing

popularity. Through this, they allow us to access something in mass media that is not necessarily produced by the culture industries who are responsible for most of what we are exposed to instead, we experience something different, unique, occasionally provocative, and generally pretty funny.

Internet memes are, as previously mentioned, a reaction to a subject, rather than the creation of it. Some great examples of this ideology are Rage comics, Antoine Dodson, and Advice Dog (plus its many spinoffs). Memes are also incredibly easy to relate to, since they are being made by internet users, rather than someone in power, sitting in an conference room, trying to brainstorm ways to titillate the audience in a way that will sell a product. Rage comics came about as short, four panel comics that were focused around situations that would induce anger, or rage. Their other definitive feature is that they end with a character making a rage face, and yelling FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU (to be called, from this point on, f7u12) to illustrate the emotion (rage) conveyed in the comic (Know Your Meme). Though the subject of the comics can be anything from everyday occurrences to unlikely happenings, they follow the same format and exhibit a reaction to an event. Rage comics are also extremely relate-able, since many of them are about commonplace experiences that the viewer has probably encountered at least once. The Antoine Dodson meme started as a video of an interview with an NBC affiliate that was posted on the web. The video became extremely popular (possibly due to the sheer absurdity of the character in it), but Dodson became an internet sensation on July 30th 2010, when Autotune The News released an auto-tuned remix of the interview entitled The Bed Intruder Song. Once this hit the internet, spinoffs came in the form of piano, ukulele and guitar covers, as well as a version being performed by a marching band (Know Your Meme). These variations, as well as the light-speed growth in popularity of the Bed Intruder Song, are the result of people's reaction to the content, which was ultimately just a video of a guy being interviewed by a news station. Advice Dog, on the other hand, is simple in its execution, as it is simply a picture of a dog's head on a colour wheel background with a funny caption (Dubs.) Advice Dog's humour is in the absurdity of advice given,

such as Buy pizza, pay with snakes, and Delete System32, make your PC faster. (Note: After realizing exactly how nerdy I am compared to potential readers, I feel I should clarify that deleting System32 is never recommended under any circumstances. It's best not to listen to Advice Dog, except in terms of this specific essay.) The community's reaction to Advice Dog was a countless number of spinoffs. These follow the same format which includes an image of a person or an animal, on a colourful background, with a caption related to the subject of the meme. These variations include Socially Awkward Penguin, Paranoid Parrot, Philosoraptor, Business Cat, Insanity Wolf, Foul Bachelor Frog, Successful Black Man, and countless others (Dubs). Of all the memes I have discussed, the Advice Animal meme probably has the most variations and has some of the easiest to relate to (and possibly funniest) image captions created. Both of these aspects of the meme that are certainly the key to their success.

Cheezburger Commodification The culture industry was first defined by Adorno and Horkheimer in 1947. They told us that the culture industry is, "In all its branches, products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured according to plan... The culture industry intentionally integrates its consumers from above" (qtd. in Strinati 56). For a long time, products of the culture industry have been the main influence for "fresh" entertainment and information, and they shape how we come to understand the world we live in. According to Hesmondhalgh, culture industries "are concerned, fundamentally, with the management and selling of a particular kind of work," (4) and the "core" culture industries include broadcasting, film, music, internet content, publishing (both print and electronic), advertising and marketing, and video games (12), which are, for the most part, media that we are generally exposed to in some form every day. Examples of these include mainstream cinema, pop music, television networks (like MTV, ABC, FOX, CTV, etc.), billboards, newspapers, magazines, or any sort of media that we consume or encounter.

Online advertising can take on many forms, through the use of pop-up ads, embedded video clips, banner ads, paid promotion on social networking sites (primarily Twitter and Facebook), and ad space on Google. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are the most prominent.

Despite the intention of memes to be different and self-expressive, as well as the counter-culture nature of internet memes, the advertising culture industry is interested in this popular form of content creation. This can most likely be explained by the fact that memes have a tendency to go viral, or become a media virus. According to Rushkoff, Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community... instead of travelling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the media space. The 'protein shell' of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style or even a pop hero as long as it can catch our attention (9-10). When memes do go viral (in this case, the rapid sharing of user-generated content through websites like Digg and social networks), it stands to reason that marketers would see the meme form as an extremely appealing way to advertise since there would be high exposure to consumers as a result. There is also a financial advantage to the creation of a meme-style marketing strategy, since they are extremely inexpensive to produce.

Ur Doin' It Wrong Even as advertisers try to embrace it, the internet meme is ultimately not a medium that is conducive to the production of content by culture industries. The method of using memes as a way to generate revenue can backfire for the creators, since people can see it a mile away (MemeFactory qtd. in Brown). Memes that are created with the intention of marketing a product are more in line with the description of a forced meme. Forced memes are [attempts] to use... the exposure effect to make one's attempt at humor a part of interweb history, or a meme, and describes that A meme is forced...

by having one person or a group of people try to spread the meme all over the interweb, or pretending that they like the meme so other people may catch on, like a fad. (Encyclopedia Dramatica). The entry on forced memes goes on to explain that, with the huge popularity of the ORLY meme, now everyone wants to take a shot at making the next internet meme. There is a clear disdain for the use of forced memes, particularly in advertising, with the thought that they are often unfunny, and that most fail miserably at what they are trying to accomplish (Encyclopedia Dramatica).

The idea of using memes as a way to market to individuals is perversive of the very nature of the internet meme itself. As previously mentioned, internet memes originate in places that can be considered counter-cultures of their own, in that they are separate from mainstream culture. Internet memes are considered to be a form of self expression through a medium (Menning qtd. in Brown). In a sense, these images are not created for the intent of exposing content to consumers, but are more in fact just pieces of information depicted in a humourous and relate-able way for viewers. The interesting thing to note is that the people who look at memes are also becoming the same people who create them that is, they are starting to become the same group (MemeFactory qtd. in Brown). These are internet users, or consumers who are not just viewing a piece of culture, but they are also actively engaging with it and the community where it originated. Culture industries don't work in this way, since they are a top down, powerful group of people manufacturing content for people to consume, and that will ideally become lucrative. It is because of this distinct functionality of the culture industry of advertising that memes are very much what I like to think of as the anti-culture industry.

Conclusion: F7U12 Throughout my research for this, and during discussions on this essay as well as its subject, which is the internet meme, I found something out that I didn't really want to that the internet isn't the colourful, rambunctious wasteland that I remember it as back when I was more of an enormous geek,

and how I imagine it to still be even now. Gage actually wrote two essays, where the second one is a follow up written three years after his academic research paper on internet memetics. I went ahead and read it after reading his research paper, thinking that it would be extremely valuable and informative. It turns out that it was, in fact, extremely informative, but what I found is that it has a much more downtrodden, bleak outlook on internet culture now compared to what things were like and his view of the internet 3-4 years ago. Youth culture has ruined the internet, because it's so easy to manipulate and capitalize on their ignorance, Gage says in his 2011 essay. In a way, he's right. He talks of overnight internet celebrities who have crossed their way into the mainstream, like Perez Hilton and Rebecca Black. (In fact, I even watched a television commercial just the other night for JC Penney, promoting their Black Friday sale by using an altered version of Black's hit song Friday as their jingle.) Twitter and Facebook have been turned into money making machines because of the deals they have struck up with advertisers and marketers to resell data that we willingly provide to them Yes, I said willingly every time you send a tweet, you are providing Twitter with information about yourself and your demographic. Both social networks have stuck deals with Google, Yahoo and Bing (Barnett;; Sullivan; Zafra). Marketing strategies that are completely driven by the proliferation of viral content and catchphrases, or buzzwords have been extremely successful in the use of the meme formula, namely the Sunsilk Wig Out campaign (CBC). Websites like I Can Has Cheezburger? (or the Cheezburger Network) have now become a network of meme-based websites (like MemeBase and Fail Blog), participating in corporate sponsorship as well as the sale of meme-inspired merchandise. The world wide web is undoubtedly a market on its own at this point, and it has seen its share of successful advertising campaigns, such as the Old Spice Guy and The Most Interesting Man in the World videos (which are Dos Equis ads, and have been adapted into an Advice Animal meme). It is a lucrative medium to be an active participant in, to be sure. As a result, the culture industry of advertising has infiltrated the precious interwebs.

Having discovered all of the above information and opinions, this paper became incredibly complicated to write, considering that everything I just stated above more or less totally contradicts what I was trying to say. That isn't exactly what my plan was when I set out to write what I have lovingly nicknamed the lulzy papar.

That being said, however, I still stand by my initial argument that internet memes challenge the idea of the culture industry. Brown's video for PBS, made just this summer, has people who are deeply involved with internet memetics talking about how memes still bubble up to the surface to the mainstream from parts of the internet that are still untouched by the culture industries. Internet memes are still being created and viewed as alternatives to the mainstream culture we are exposed to everywhere else. There is still a strong movement of people who are producing this content who are not just producers, but viewers too it's not mass media being produced by the people in power, but it is part of the new media being provided by and to an active, engaged audience that is becoming more and more vocal. New media is actually characterized by the active audience member and the the flurry of computer based artistic activities (Manovitch qtd. in Burkell). It's the same as before, in the sense that if you wanted to find these things, they were found in the margins. You still have to go hunting for the truly provocative and really funny content. You can still find memes created by people with the intent to express their rage (Friend Zone Fiona, while a passive aggressive way to do so, still counts, and is pretty easy to relate to). It may be true that there is a market obscuring the culture surrounding internet memes, but I'm optimistic that the spirit of the lulz isn't going anywhere any time soon.

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