FEBRUARY 2018 ART & CONVERSATION
We’ve reached the point where memes have to be taken seriously. In their abundance, and prevalence bordering on ubiquity, we can’t avoid them. Memes have not only become popular culture but show a frightening reflection of today’s modern youth. And as such, we have to reckon with them.
The question is- how far is too far? And is there ever really redemption for being the butt of a joke or must one succumb to their newfound identity in order to appease the masses?
Written by Jim Corrigan, Linda Ferrer, Ed. Felix Barreras, Summer Latta
But to do so is a trap, because the meme fandom is not meant to be taken seriously. These creators are the meme generators who take something and exploit it until either someone is hurt or the meme is killed by a controversy greater than itself. At times, a single individual will declare it ‘dead’ and as fast as the meme spread, it just as easily dies. Sometimes, they are created accidentally. Before you know it, you can be the next meme. The alternative is cutting yourself off from popular cultures, and at this point, the internet in its entirety, and that is an unsustainable stance for anyone who wishes to take a serious look at all culture.
Some people become living-walking-memes. They are the "internet famous." But just as memes can be interpreted differently, so can the attention. Therein lies the troubling tendency memes have to manifest in real life. The question is- how far is too far? And is there ever really redemption for being the butt of a joke or must one succumb to their newfound identity in order to appease the masses?
Or perhaps, Ugandan Knuckles may have already interrupted you while you were reading this or, at least, claims of its’ racist nature. But in a society where everyone has become trigger-happy with the "R" word, Ugandans themselves, who have viewed it, defend the joke, stating it is not, in the least bit racist, or meant to be offensive in any way. So why are memes that should be taken seriously -not, and things that should not be taken seriously such as Ugandan Knuckles- are? In the United States where it has somehow become ‘socially acceptable’ to make fun of white people only, we can see how a cocktail of guilt, confusion, and fear can turn something harmless into something ugly, and in this case, something worth discussing.
Many people who had never heard of Logan Paul (including some who probably didn’t know what a YouTuber is) suddenly had an opinion about him when he released a video of himself and his crew coming across a man who had hung himself in Aokigahara, aka "Suicide Forest," Japan. With his cameras rolling, he quickly realized it was no laughing matter, but soon, however, to brush of a series of very ‘serious’ and awkward moments, he went into jokes about it. It is without assumption that at least hundreds of thousands of his subscribers, most of which are young adolescents between 9-15, came across irrevocable footage that may or may not have had the impact it’s supposed to. After one full day of being available to the public of all age groups and trending on YouTube, he removed it, himself (not even by the platform’s administrators). YouTube cut ties with Logan Paul but never banned him. He then released the same video (with image blurred) pledging to work on suicide prevention and demonetization of his video. In the follow-up video, his pledge sounds overly sincere, like a man needing forgiveness. YouTube is, of course, his livelihood. It was his rise to fame and fortune. Now, he’s a meme. Hopefully, this accountability and new direction of starting a suicide prevention campaign will change him and his viewers lives for the better and is not just an extended apology.
In that sense, memes stand as metaphors for all of us. Part of the challenge of social media (and all media) is selection. We pick who we follow, who follows or friends us, etc. But as media becomes immersive, there are things we can’t escape. This is the price of engagement with the world. You don’t have to eat Tide pods, but you do have to hear about it. The pop culture trap does seem to have its limits, after all.
Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in The Selfish Gene, but it was taken from a phrase in ancient Greek phrase meaning “imitated thing.” In a culture of imitation, or replication, things evolve. And once the phenomenon emerges, it becomes something to comment on, and then those comments become something to comment on, and like fractals within fractals.
Taking a look into what’s happening in meme culture can be unsettling, but fans describe memes as having the ability "to save lives." Then again, if something so absurd and illogical can influence our youth to eat tide pods just because ‘everyone else’ is taking up this challenge, then we have a bigger issue to tackle.
Discussion of eating Tide pods dates back to 2012 with nearly 8,000 incidences and 1 death, but only this year did “The Tide Pod Challenge” emerge. We should note that this phenomenon is almost certainly exaggerated, but certain that a few people have eaten Tide pods and some of those effects are irreversible. So much so, that Tide puts a disclaimer on the front of their packaging.