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  • Talan Memmott 10:08 on August 12, 2014 Permalink |  

    Seminar Wrap-up 

    Thank you for participating in the UnderAcademy College Summer Seminar 2014.

    Throughout the seminar we have covered a wide variety of topics related to meme culture; including, banality, dead memes, memes and science, taxonomies for memes, their abundance in our online culture… The discussions have been lively and interesting.

    To wrap-up the seminar we would like to ask a few final questions. Please answer the following as COMMENTS to this post.

    1. What did you find most interesting about the topics covered in the UnderAcademy Summer Seminar 2014?
    2. What will you take away from the experience?
    3. Has the seminar change your view of memes critically, creatively, socially?

    The blog will remain open for posting through August 15. Please feel free to continue to post.

    CERTSAMPsTo receive your printable certificate of participation in the seminar. You will need to have done the following:

    1. Completed a minimum of five of the primary assignments (assingnments 2-8)
    2. Been an active participant by posting comments to the assignments, or to the posts of other participants.

    You will need to complete the following online survey and certificate request.

    UnderAcademy Summer Seminar 2014 Exit Survey and Certificate Request

    • ajabine 17:36 on August 13, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I really enjoyed my dementors or destructors, or whatever it is you’ve been calling yourselves. I have no idea what I’d like to do next, as I still don’t know whether you anticipate only topics based on social media or also topics of general semiotic interest. In fact, I don’t even really know what you are. But you don’t know what I am, so I guess we’re even. You clearly made an effort, though, so I did, too. Thank you!

      1. What I found most interesting was learning just how many meme themes have come and gone without my knowledge–I’m just not that plugged in to social media.

      2. What I’ll take away: a heightened interest in semiotics, which I’ve never pursued in a formal way. My formal education concluded in 1979, so this whole thing is like drinking from a firehose.

      3. Changes to my view of memes, critically, creatively, socially: As a student of anthropology, I’m pretty comfortable with addressing the structure of social meaning and the meaning of social structure, so that’s all well and good. Creatively: I learned how many meme-generators there are, but I’d still rather make comments with relatively unvarnished, unmediated (text-free) images. Memes with text strike me as too directive and self-limiting, an illustration as opposed to a painting. Socially: I know better than I did before just how large a meme-vocabulary many of my younger friends in social media have.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Talan Memmott 17:51 on August 13, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      ajabine: please look at the course archive for UnderAcademy College.
      We have offered a rather wide variety of courses.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ajabine 23:16 on August 13, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      My apologies–“digressors”. I love it. Very impressive project. Thanks again for all the fish!


    • aklobucar 08:29 on August 14, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Seminar Wrap-up: My responses

      1. What did you find most interesting about the topics covered in the UnderAcademy Summer Seminar 2014?

      It’s easy to see with these various UnderAcademy projects and activities, how a well-managed online resource like a WordPress blog/site can be quite enabling as a space of discussion, debate and collective production. I’ve worked with a number of different “parallel/alternative” spaces and organisations in cities across Canada and the UK, running workshops in the “first life,” and I have to say that the level of critical engagement remains just as high with these online experiments. The tasks and assignments are well introduced – and the research that goes into the responses and “digressions” is amazingly in-depth and precise. I learned more about memes in the last week than in my life, despite watching their use grow across online communities.

      2. What will you take away from the experience?
      I think the basic scholarship we’ve managed to produce here is very important. I’m going to take many of the historical analyses, the “archaeologies,” so to speak, to help me critically reconsider how Web-content has developed since 2008 and the development of Reddit, 4chan services. We’re at a point in Web history, I think, where the content is becoming wholly corporatised by the world’s largest media conglomerates. Trying to understand these developments critically is increasingly important to communication and media studies. Like many media theorists, I’ve been itching to get a crack at the meme as one of the most important tropes and formats of our current cultural era, and this course has provided a foundation for more examination. The genres and sub-genres introduced here seem quite ripe for more prodding.

      3. Has the seminar change your view of memes critically, creatively, socially?
      I think I have a better idea of the level of mass appeal in online culture the meme obviously represents, with specific “icons” becoming immediately “distributable” to convey distinct social attitudes and positions. I think, Talan’s use of Becht’s Gestus is very useful here. Stroke of brilliance, really. Memes also help me understand just what it might mean to participate in terms of political/aesthetic assembly in online networks. I think this area of study is still pretty nascent, but we all might be on to something in terms of how social media chats and forums might actually function (or fail to function) as modes for re-defining collective identity and action. I keep thinking of how the printing press established a very particular mode of social communication in any village by bringing into being, so to speak, the genre of the “public notice.” Before presses, it was physically impossible to put up posters in a town. One of the earliest forms of this type of communication to appear in pre-enlightenment Europe was produced literally at Gutenberg’s press. It was a warning to citizens in a town just east of Mainz, Germany of an impending invasion by the Hungarian/Romanian Duke Vlad III or Vlad the impaler. I’d like to look more deeply into the political dimension of the meme, following this line of thought.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Jeff T. Johnson 16:01 on August 15, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      The seminar as a whole and in its particulars has been fascinating, informative, and fun. It seems to me that the most valuable part of the UAC experiment is engaged collaborative investigation, where ultimately we are creating and practicing performative scholarship. That certainly happened here, and it was a blast. I came back for the laughs as much as the insight, and they were well balanced. I say this even as it seems to me that the undergraduate classroom is tending toward a performance space where students want to be the audience for a captivating performer-instructor whose role, conversely, is to get students to actively participate. Anyway, that’s been my experience teaching english comp.

      What I mean to say: This seminar is an example of turning that “here we are now entertain us” mentality to the advantage of all involved. We keep each other in it without being coercive or forcing (or feeling entitled to) humor.

      Anyway, the team teaching seems to have contributed to the ambient learning environment, so we were presented with several perspectives and were presented with openings to present our own. One of the challenges of web-based courses is to encourage and inspire students to read each other’s posts, and in this seminar I was always interested in (and informed by) other people’s contributions. This is one of the more straight-forward formats I’ve seen for a UAC class (lecture/assignment/response model and narrative progression), but it worked really well, and I especially appreciated the (plentiful) moments of play with the format (breaking up lectures, multiple fakkers on a thread, instructive posts by students).

      The seminar has given me a lot to think about, and allowed the time, space and community to play with ideas and develop my ability to articulate critical takes on web media culture that relate to my writing practice. What impresses me most about the presentation of this seminar is that it managed to theorize memes without vacating the field of play. No phony or limiting sense of critical dispassion—we rolled in the stuff, fucking around but taking it seriously. Happily, it didn’t feel like slumming or trainspotting.

      Prior to the seminar, I was already critically, aesthetically and socially engaged with memes, particularly after seeing Talan and Davin’s panel at ELO14. I’m not sure if this seminar changed my view, but it certainly better informed me, and has made me better able to talk about memes in a critical context. I’m sure it will also help me with my work. I was happy the seminar didn’t turn into a vetting of memes (this is a meme, this is not a meme), or a fussy catalog (that’s not a gestic meme it’s an image macro) and instead seems to have developed toward an expanded sense of meme-ness. (That said, I want to take more time to make taxonomic distinctions, and expect Talan’s book to help with that.) My favorite scholar/practitioners are more interested in broad but rigorous hybrid application than narrowly defining their field, and I felt like we were in that open field here.

      I’d definitely take a follow-up course, and would love to dig into 4chan and reddit, memes in relation to advertising, and, as Andrew put it, the political dimensions of the meme.

      Thanks, everyone!

      Liked by 2 people

    • constancex 18:50 on August 15, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      What did you find most interesting about the topics covered in the UnderAcademy Summer Seminar 2014?

      I am interested less in a descriptive characterization (of anything) in favor of a more functional characterization, such that perhaps a game of sorts can be played with memes; they become part of a lexicon with which individuals who know the language can speak to one another.

      What will you take away from the experience? Has the seminar change your view of memes critically, creatively, socially?

      I had hoped it would be more like the WWF up in here, but I’m guessing you really have to carefully choose your participants for that. Maybe if we each chose luchador names from the start …
      It made me start wondering if “memes” as the course defines them are dead, perhaps on account of the shelf-life fad nature of memes, they are whisked out of the current by consensus, once everyone has seen, they are done; whereas, if a new word is coined, people aren’t obliged to stop using it once everyone knows what it means; it becomes part of the lexicon …
      I have noticed more memes, or meme-attempts, in advertising, since this course; last night I saw a “Captain Obvious” in a canoe, for some product, and I almost got excited about creating other “Captain Obvious” stories, except, then, I would only be promoting some product … Yo Quiero.
      (‘tho I have to think that the lesson of flarf has already been taken up in advertising; that the main thing is to completely arrest the thinking of a casual viewer, and then insert your message simply, as Erik outlines.

      Thank you,
      Connie Michener

      Liked by 2 people

    • ajabine 13:14 on August 18, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Great, now I had to look up flarf. 😉


  • Talan Memmott 19:08 on August 10, 2014 Permalink |  

    Undead Addendum 

    The following graph is from my presentation on meme culture at the Electronic Literature Organization Conference this past June. Since it deals with old memes, and their search interest over time, I  thought it would apply here.


    Three memes of different types all emerging in 2006: Disaster Girl, Put Shoe on Head, and I like Turtles. The graphs shows peak search interest in each year 2006 to April 2014.

    What we see for each of these memes is that they go through an initial phase of virality, die down, and then arise again (undead): Disaster Girl peaking in 2008 and again in 2011; Put Shoe on Head peaking in 2006, 2009, and now again in 2014; I Like Turtles in 2007 and 2011, with another rise in 2014.


    • aklobucar 05:13 on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      It’s nice to see both shoe and dis girl on the upswing as we move through 2014. I was thinking of investing in Turtle, though, since the value is more affordable. But… am I just throwing my academic capital away? Ah, the eternal question…

      Liked by 4 people

  • Talan Memmott 13:24 on August 10, 2014 Permalink |  

    The Undead 

    Was thinking about the zombie assignment, so I did a google image search for old memes. What interested me in the returns were the old memes that comment on old memes.

    here are some examples.

    a b c d e f g h

  • Talan Memmott 12:49 on August 10, 2014 Permalink |  

    Science Schmience. :) 

    We must not forget the TROLL SCIENCE memes.







    Here’s what Know Your Meme has to say about it.

    • davinheckman 15:44 on August 10, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thanks for this! Troll science is beautiful. And it hearkens back to a whole host of late 19th and early 20th century gags like Rube Goldberg machines and the mythical cat-rat scheme. These types of technocapitalist satires are a lot like, perhaps, earlier forms of comedy which sought to make other systems (clerical and monarchic) seems silly.

      Liked by 2 people

    • constancex 20:35 on August 10, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      There’s always the falling cat with the buttered toast strapped to its feet; it must land on its feet, but the toast must land buttered-side down, thus, you have a homegrown maglev system.

      Liked by 1 person

    • aklobucar 08:40 on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I completely agree with the lineage Davin proposes between Troll science and the wonders of any Rube Goldberg mechanism. The physical humour derived from this procedural wizardry is what made Chaplin Chaplin. Ahh… if only Wile E. Coyote was somehow able to find the right ACME product. The Roadrunner would have been his to feast on.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Talan Memmott 08:39 on August 9, 2014 Permalink |  

    changing contexts, becoming… 

    I was thinking about meme-mixing in the contexts introduced in the embracing banality post… how a narrative could be developed through changing meme contexts, through a sort of becoming… perhaps, as before and after images with very little captioning.

    The image below moves from squee to anti-foodporn while maintaining the same subject.  Perhaps moving from the banal to the uncanny.



    Squee becoming Lunch



  • Talan Memmott 13:52 on August 8, 2014 Permalink |  

    photomontage and meme-mixing 

    dick-cheney-robot-heart-weekly-world-newsjust some examples in reply to Andrew’s comment on Lisa’s post.alienendorsesobama


  • Talan Memmott 12:37 on August 8, 2014 Permalink |  

    Embracing Banality 


    cultureAlienation Capital
    Perhaps there is too much content. Or, everything is content just as everything is art. Then again, maybe culture has become contentless, and what is exchanged and consumed are mere tokens of and for content; these tokens of/for content being granted a dubious objecthood in what could be considered a Baudrillardian system of “symbolic exchange.” If we look at memes as exchange objects, tokens, or currency we may want to consider how they “resist capitalist values.” Certianly, memes in this regard are not produced with monetary profit in mind but they may in fact reflect and reinforce cultural values while resisting or obfuscating utility.

    This phenomenon may be called alienation capital, in which value is secured through expenditure (see Bataille on General Economy) – through “the share” (as in sharing) and the perpetuation of the share (further sharing). As the token becomes further removed from its original source, through progressively more anonymous sharing, its value increases as cultural artifact. (That is until your grandmother shares it through her aol email account)

     The (Text) of (Culture) in the Age of Networked Redistributabiity
    The loss of aura around memes is paradoxically what makes them interesting. Through symbolic exchange they are both inflated and depleted of significance. What makes a meme popular is what also allows it to fade. In addition, in regard to image macro memes there is no original to be considered, as there is no originating holistic author of the meme in and of itself. Memes are formed from appropriated textons to form the distributable, distributed, received scriptons. (see Aarseth) As such, memes as tokens, even in their most vocative form, are a sort of currency.

    By the time a meme becomes a meme it is already the banal ruin of its vocative form. Yet, they remain potent as cultural tokens and this is how they perform what I will here call THE UNHEIMLICH MANEUVER.

    Memes, in general – and I am speaking not only of the artifacts but also the social phenomena around them, reside uncomfortably between the banal and the uncanny. They can be strange and unfamiliar; they can be so common as to be ignored. They can evoke either/both immediately laughter and/or a scratching of the head. That said, social media sharing has become such a commonplace performative act that the redistributability of memes may be their most banal condition. Still, this action both reifies and rarifies cultural values by being either/both exclusive and/or inclusive.

    Banality as Uncanny

    FREAKYCelebrity Fails
    “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that… Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it’s always the same thing. Yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more.”
    — Samuel Beckett, Endgame


    Justin Bieber pissing into a restaurant mop bucket.

    Justin Bieber, Lindsey Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and countless other celebrities have been involved in scandals and fails. Sometimes it is the unfortunate paparazzi shot, other times it is just being caught being a doofus. In our idolization of celebrity we suspect that stars live a charmed life, which is why we find their failures so fascinating. These falls from grace, the buffoonery and failures of celebrities connects us to them while simultaneously distancing us from them by allowing us to project our own potential shame and disgrace upon a celebrated other. Their virality is based in the humor we find in their disgrace. Though for ourselves we may think of these acts as disgraceful or banal, for the celebrity there is no such thing as bad publicity. Ultimately, these actions are banal, reproducible by anyone. What makes them interesting is the performer more than the performance.

    Emphatic Selfies

    “Become who you are!”
    ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra


    Selfies are everywhere. Everybody does it. They may be the most popular form of (in particular) smartphone photography. They can be affirmative for the person taking them; they can be annoying for the people subjected to them. They can capture significant moments, but these moments may be completely banal for the other. That said, there are variations on the selfie that mitigate the monotony of the subject, while emphasizing the insipidity of the form.


    Wishful Thinking

    The two examples to the left are representative of mitigation as inflation. They speak volumes as to the perceived cultural value of selfies as projected self representations that exceed reality while maintaining the selfie framework. We might want to call both of these image “Wishful Thinking” selfies. These images are manipulated, however poorly, to make a statement, to project something other than the self – the self-image. Of course, self-image is part of all selfies, as is wishful thinking. People share their best face, mostly. But, these images do something else. They expose their illusion, projecting want over worth. We must wonder if the creators of these images believe in the success of their illusions.


    Selfies Gone Wrong

    We may also want to look at “selfies gone wrong” and how they accidentally, or incidentally critique the selfie form. They two images on the right are prime examples of “selfies gone wrong”. The top image is by now quite well known as the meme “Bae Caught Me Slippin”. Emerging in 2012 as a photo fad it continues to be popular online (a Google search of the term produces over 70,000 results). The lower image is perhaps just unfortunate and embarrassing. What both of these selfies have in common is a lack of subjective awareness of surroundings. The primary subjects in these images seem so self-absorbed they have put on blinders. These sorts of selfies could fall under the category of FAIL. And, as potential memes, this makes them successful. As Beckett says, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

    A relatively new trend in selfies is the “Cellotape Selfie”. Though the images follow the selfie framework perhaps more closely than the “Wishful Thinking” selfies, which embrace digital manipulation (beyond filters), “Cellotape Selfies” take a more manual approach. By applying cellotape to one’s face, the subject’s features are distorted beyond recognition, sometimes with horrifying results. cello
    Where the “Wishful Thinking” selfies are about inflating self-image, and “selfies gone wrong” are failures in awareness of surroundings, these images are entirely intentional. As a photo fad, these images may more closely align with peformative memes; in that, in action is taken, and what is distributed is documentation of the action. Nonetheless, “Cellotape Selfies” are emphatic, producing commentary on the selfie as self-promotional, on its form and cultural value.


    The Antithesis of FoodPorn
    Certainly, foodporn is a meme. And, to some degree it may be considered a second order selfie. Is it really about the food? Or, is it again about self-image – “I am here eating this, and you’re not.”?

    What if we switch this around… Perhaps to state, “I am here eating this, and you should be happy you aren’t.” This provocation could create images similar to the “Cellotape Selfies” – producing commentary on the form while resisting its aesthetic sensibilities. In fact, there are a number of sites that provide just such imagery, most notably Cooking for Bae (instagram) and Someone Ate This (tumblr).

    Both of these projects offer up image after image of unappetizing food, and it is the shear volume of these images that makes them both intriguing and uncanny. We are both attracted and repulsed by the images and their banality is reinforced by our own familiarity with failed culinary experiments.

    NOT foodporn!

    NOT foodporn!

    Squee makes me Squeamish
    “Dessert without cheese is like a beauty with only one eye”
    ― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

    OMG! SQUEE!!!

    OMG! SQUEE!!!

    Now for some sugary dessert.
    I selected the above quote because of its reference to cheese. Because, what we are going to talk about here combines sugary sweetness with extreme cheesiness.

    The urban dictionary defines squee as “A noise primarily made by an over-excited fangirl.” As it is associated with memes the term carries extra references to images of cute animals, baby animals, funny animals. It is perhaps fitting that the term be applied to both an unrestrained, uncontrolled, excited reaction and to animals, and we may want to consider squee as a subject for animality studies. But, we won’t do that here and now.

    Images that fall within the domain of squee generally provide an overdose of saccharin sweetness – of vulnerability, of smallness, of innocence. They are banal in their lack of cynicism; they are uncanny because of the human reaction to them. It is the mysterious kinderschema – oversized head, large eyes, round cheeks – that makes squee images meme-worthy. That said, squee, our reaction to squee images may be biological rather than cultural.


    Do one or more of the following and post it to the blog using August 8: Embracing Banality as the category:

    — Create a Cellotapeselfie. Create a selfie. post the images side by side. Discuss the differences.
    — Create a selfie. Manipulate the selfie. post the images side by side. Discuss the differences.
    — Consider what would be anti-squee, post the images side by side with a squee image. Discuss the differences.
    — Create a foodporn image. Create a anti-foodporn image. post the images side by side. Discuss the differences.
    — Find an image of a celebrity scandal. Reproduce the image using yourself or friends as the subject. Discuss the differences.

    • ccboca 08:56 on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      The cellotape selfie might have been tempting for about 10 sec, till I thought about the fact that the tape also has to come off!


  • Talan Memmott 10:51 on August 7, 2014 Permalink |  

    Shared Second Life 


  • Talan Memmott 18:26 on August 6, 2014 Permalink |  



  • Talan Memmott 08:38 on August 6, 2014 Permalink |  


    I was thinking about the juxtaposition of celebrity and the top caption in the DAFUQ example.



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