Memes-The Insensitive Internet
If you have a social media account or access to the internet in general, it is very likely that you have stumbled upon a meme before. Abidin suggests that meme personalities can be ordinary people “who are (unwittingly) captured in compromising circumstances or with notable expressions or gestures and become iconized as memes” (Abidin, 2018, p.44). The word ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkins. He defined the word as an idea, that spreads from one person to another. Memes were initially used for amusement. But now they have evolved and can present themselves in various ways. Almost any relatable content with a comedic value that we see online, can be referred to as a meme.
Dawkins (1976) stated that memes spread like a virus, and infect our minds with ideas. Although many scholars have rejected this theory, a certain aspect of the hypodermic needle theory can be applied to meme culture in the sense that, it suggests that a passive audience accepts media messages without challenging the ideas embedded in the text. Abidin addresses the different stages of meme personalities with the first stage being “Faces of memes”. During this process, the images of these ordinary people spread widely across the internet and become recognized for their humorous value. However, due to the context of the image being stripped away by us as users, the person becomes “reduced to a mere icon” (p.44). Both Dawkins (1976) and the hypodermic needle theory, speak of ideas affecting our minds and it could be argued that we as the audience, consume memes as they are, without challenging the context behind it, but not because we are passive, but because we quickly consume memes and they are often seen as ‘funny’ rather than harmful.
In some cases, memes have proven to be more harmful than people think. Abidin pointed out the case of Heidi Yeh, whose career and personal life was negatively impacted by an internet meme.
I wanted to give an example of an extreme case, whereby a meme/joke had gone too far. In 2014, a photo of a young girl named Jada from Texas Houston went viral and quickly became a meme known as #Jadapose. Jada had attended a house party where her drink was spiked, she was raped and didn’t know about it until a picture of her unconscious body was posted on Twitter by her rapist. Pictures of young people posing like her unconscious body also went viral, and very quickly Jada’s pain became known as a joke, and a hashtag named #Jadapose (Broderick, 2014)
As harmless as memes may seem, this blog explored how people often do not challenge the context behind a meme and reduce people to a joke. I believe that many of us are not passive audiences, as some individuals actively criticized those who participated in ridiculing Jada, but it does not change the fact that many people on the internet do not acknowledge the effect that memes can have on the people who unwillingly become a face of a meme. The internet is becoming insensitive, and memes have a role to play as they have been presented to be comical and many just take it as it is.
Abidin, C. (2018). Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. Emerald.
Broderick, R. (2014). Houston Teenagers Turned A Photo Of A 16-Year-Old Girl’s Alleged Sexual Assault Into A “Meme.” Retrieved 29 December 2020, from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanhatesthis/houston-teenagers-turned-a-photo-of-a-16-year-old-girls-alle
‘Can’t hide it forever’: The model who became a meme. (2015). Retrieved 29 December 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34568674
Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene (p. 244). Oxford University Press.
Shaw, E. (1977). The Agenda-Setting Hypothesis Reconsidered : Interpersonal Factors. Gazette (Leiden, Netherlands), 23(4), 230–240. doi: 10.1177/001654927702300403