(Artwork by Darleine.)
And so we posted the *polemic pic* in our page in Facebook, and it happened: it started to get weird. Internet is such a weird place, really: you find all types of memes. And memes are a way to “consume democratized images”, that is: images of people who have been “objectivized”. In other words, images of people who have been transformed into a thing by the internet public.
The word meme comes from the Greek word “mimema” (μίμημα), which means “that which is imitated,” or just “to imitate”. This word originated from the hands of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Meme was a word used to describe the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena in many areas.
We can think of a meme as a way that popular culture has to express itself. Memes carry cultural ideas, and are themselves, symbols that can be easily transmitted through the internet. Memes can contain writing, gestures, refer to rituals, or just imitations. Memes are elastic: they mutate, they change according to their public. In fact, memes are copied information, imitations, that we create. When we do so, we transform ourselves in “replicators,” “imitators,” or “replicants” (if you prefer Blade Runner).
In this light, the *polemic pic* is an example of popular culture, a meme. A famous German cosplayer called Fahrlight took a picture that was funny and awesome (very well done cosplay). It went viral on the web. Then, someone photoshoped Loki’s face on the body of the cosplayer. Some other people might even find adding some text to this second variation of the picture a *must*. (And you can go on like this forever.) The cosplayer “imitated” the real Loki, thus transmitting information, a selected information, which had varied (the image itself of a cosplayer, “a meme”). This information was then copied by others. It mutated on the way, and this copy was transmitted as well.
Pictures, once in the stream of the net, are potential targets to become “memes”. It does not only happen with screenshots from films, it also happens with any pic that is catalogued as “funny” by someone. You really don’t need to be famous to become a meme, nor be a cosplayer. What’s more: you don’t even need to be human to become a meme. Cats are purrfect for that. Plus, if an image is copied with variation and it’s selected, then you must have a designer appearing out of nowhere. You can’t stop it! (Susan Blackmore). Ta-da! The Internet Evolution is here! (Darwin applied to the memes!!)
To this, you can apply then objectivation. “Objectivation” means transforming the person into a thing. This is a process also known as democratization, and we can do it with images we find in internet. This usually happens when the image is about someone popular. The more popular you become, the more numbers you get to become a “thing,” thus, “information”. It is a layer of “abstraction” which meme machines (us!!) put onto those who are admired or treated as idols. (Please read this for more info.)
“Meme-fication” is just another way to “democratize” the image of people in the net. We transform it into plain information dehumanizing the person in the image. You don’t really need to be popular in the whole world. You just need to be a trend (because someone transformed your image into a meme, and then sticks around for a while, till the mob or meme machines forget you, thus, literally disposing of you), or to be popular in a niche.
In this case we have a popular cosplayer (her niche is cosplaying as Loki). She is popular enough as to experience some of the effects of this process of “democratization” of her image. If into the equation we add Loki’s halo, it was just a question of time to end up “cut & pasted” in some sort of shape. Both turned out to be mere pieces of information, things that could be just copied, modified and shared along.
“Cannibalistic consumerism does not really appear to damage the consumers themselves” (Jack Gleeson), but it does damage the psyche of those whose lifes have been “democratized”. When they are reduced to a thing, they are being objectivized, and thus, by this process, you become a mere entertainment product. And this is what exactly happened with the polemic image: it became a piece of information (a thing, a product to be shared) that it’s copied ad nauseam from person to person.
The cosplayer’s pic was “objectivized,” “democratized” and “dehumanized” (someone chopped off her head, basically), as well as Loki’s image (someone chopped his head off to attach it to the cosplayer’s body). Both have been “objectivized,” “democratized” and “dehumanized” to create a meme, an imitation, the target of which was to express a feeling or just pure entertainment. The one who happily chopped off heads and attached the cosplayer’s body with Loki’s head wanted to express a feeling or an idea through anonymous art (the meme): the wish that the real actor would have been the one to put that pose, while wanting to entertain, not only himself/herself, but also those who would see the picture.
This type of popular culture proliferates in the net. While bored kids in the 80s where transforming people using pens to draw hats and beards on them, now technology offers us means to see unreal images as real. Before you shared your rudimentary “memes” among your peers, now you can share enhanced ones in internet, thus, you can share them with the whole world in just one click. Pens have given space to Photoshop as the main tool for expression of feelings. Technology has enabled an über-meme-fication which enables anyone to become a voracious meme machine.
What the polemic picture also showed us one more thing: that fans can enter into a mob mentality. This can happen when you have two groups which have different or similar colliding “idols”. In this case: the cosplayer’s fans and Loki’s fans. Both groups share the love for Loki, but only one group adds the love for the girl who is cosplaying. Both groups can get “mad” by the fact of someone chopping off heads and bodies and attaching them to the wrong counterparts. And both groups can react accordingly. Usually, the way of online reaction is to “say names” or say that “certain actions are stupid” (like, creating the meme in the first place; or that some fans believed the picture was real). Whatever the case, the reaction was clear: part of the fandom in each side entered into “mob mentality.” In this state, no group will listen to the other one. Both sides become a whole unit defending the wronged idol, and will not listen to anything else but “surrender you, mewling quim!”
Not everyone enters into this state. Most people will only be amused by the picture, probably smile, and stay away from the polemics. Only a small number of fans in each group will start “getting offended” by the treatment of their “idols”. Simply put, they make the suffering of the “idol” their suffering. This can be dangerous, since you are putting the “apparent needs” of the idol in front of your own.
What to do if you find yourself in a “meme”?? Just one thing: remember who you really are! Do not lose your self just because “meme machines” have “democratized” your image. Unknown people can chop off your head and attach it to a strange body, like a dinosaur, or some other character you might be not found of. Try not to get “offended,” and keep on going. That’s the only way to survive the evolution of the Internet, and the cannibalistic consumerism present in our societies nowadays. And if you are planning to “meme-fy” someone, even if it’s for a half second, try to remember that you are “meme-fying” a human being like you. Believe it or not: he/she is human.
“Objectification theory” by Fredrickson & Roberts. It refers to the “objectification” of women in a society that objectifies the female body (ours). It states that “sexual objectification occurs whenever a woman’s body, body parts, or sexual functions are separated out from her person, reduced to the status of mere instruments, or regarded as if they were capable of representing her (Bartky,1990). In other words, when objectified, women are treated as bodies– and in particular, as bodies that exist for the use and pleasure of others.” (Objectification Theory, Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks, Fredrickson & Roberts, p175; in Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 1997)
We can see here that the same problem appears with celebrities, and people who are minimally popular in a niche, regardless of their sex. Society treats them as “objects” “that seem to exist for the use and pleasure of others”.
Susan Blackmore: Memes and “temes” (21 minutes).