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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Memetics
Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:57 pm
MEMESAN ongoing social phenomenon. These often come in the form of funny pictures and texts combined, creating jokes that are passed on across cultures throughout the world wide web.
One cannot possibly open social media or at the very least use the internet without coming across memes. For baby boomers (the generation born before the internet began), these things are mere silly distractions that take up most of generation Ys time. However, the truth is, theres more to it than meets the eye.
To address this misunderstanding between two different generations, Tropical Futures Institute (TFI) held a one night only open-sourced exhibit of memes entitled The Meme Show last Aug. 18. TFI is a loose group of like-minded individuals, an arm of 856 G Gallery that focuses on neo-centric community shows, focused more on bringing people together as emphasized by Anne Amores, assistant gallerist of 856 G Gallery.
Anyone can join. Its a celebration of the meme culture and were trying to elevate memes into an art form which it arguably is, said Zach Aldave, meme enthusiast and a member of TFI.
Memes relate to the Dada movement. The dada began as a reaction to the limitation of art. Dada started like that; its anti-art art. We can relate that to memes, which are satirical social commentaries, he continued. Its a super-mutated form of satire, added Anne.
The interrelation of cultures before was brought about by intercontinental travels and interracial marriages. Back in the day, globally educating oneself was expensive and entailed one to physically expose himself to another culture, but in the present generation this happens in a different way, more accessible and easier.
If you look at the meme and you strip all the unnecessary sh*tall the irony and all the humorit boils down to being just a pure form of social commentary, said Zach.
Memes are cultural symbols or social ideas in the form of jokes, and are virally transmitted through wires without needing one to get out of the house. So despite the fact that one is just staring into the computer screen reading memes, one is actually being educated about the varying cultures from the different corners of the Earth.
As a form of art, memes are also forms of expression. Some memes exhibit dark humor which represents the sector from which it comes, and which a lot of people surprisingly empathize with.
Some memes are also sort of expressing deeply seated feelings like depression. Whats good about memes is that these are like an outlet for a lot of people who are struggling. Usually theyre cloaked in irony or humor, and they empathize with each other through memes, said Anne.
Unknown by many, memes can be traced back in history. It is being brought to light as a science with a study called Memetics. Memetics is a study begun by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In this study, memes are understood to be cultural genes, carrying cultural information from one person to another and human beings are vehicles of their transmission.
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Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:15 pm
by Mikaela T. Bona and Joma M. Roble Published 20 August, 2017 at 1:01 AM from the April 2017 print issue
A meme is both the picture that is worth a thousand words and the few words that can make a thousand picturesor not.
Like hungry brigands waiting by the side of busy trade route, memes ambush and bombard many of us in our own journeys across the Internet, particularly when we travel by social media. They can strike our newsfeeds unexpectedly and boldly. However, unlike bandits out for bounty, Internet memes are seemingly a much more pleasant sight to encounter.
In her 2008 TED talk, memeticist Susan Blackmore explained that memes are bits of information that replicate themselves from person to person through imitation. Memeticists study memetics, a field which explores how ideas propagate among people. Blackmore then continued to say that we human beings have created a new meme: what she calls the technological meme, or the teme for short, which is a meme disseminated via technology. The teme is what is commonly known to be the meme with a comical picture and text shared on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.
This merry friend of ours still has much to share with us. As it acts as a mirror that can reflect our joys and sorrows in an instant, memes have also become a mouthpiece of a generation in constant flux.
To define it is to kill it
Ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the first to coin the term meme in his bestselling book, The Selfish Gene. Deriving from the Greek mimemes and the French mme which mean imitated thing and memory, respectively, he defines the traditional meme as a living structure that transfers from brain to brain in the process of imitation.
According to Dawkins, memes could be tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots, or [even ways] of building the arches. He states further that memes and genes are both meant to sustain as well as change humans, but while genes exist for biological evolution, memes, on the other hand, are replicators that allow for cultural transmission throughout generations.
Interestingly, Dawkins did not lay down specificities as to why memes proliferated. Internet memes are steadily reproduced for an unknownand possibly nonexistentreason. As The Atlantic writer Venkatesh Rao puts it, the Internet meme is a meme in the original sense intended by Richard Dawkins: a cultural signifier that spreads simply because it is good at spreading. It pertains to something that is necessarily vague for it to be universally understood.
While a picture is often described to speak a thousand words, the meme goes beyond interrelated ideas and event. A photo of a smirking man with his right index finger pointing on the right side of his forehead, for instance, would mean hes thinking of something clever. What that thing is though is uncannily up to all of us, making us not just observers, but active participants in the meme experience.
When you speak of memes, you just feel that its a meme. It takes its own being of being a meme in your mind and it can become as weird or not weird as your imagination wants. Its just what it is for you, shares Vince Nieva, of the meme page Ageless Ateneo Memes, in his talk for Arete 2017: Hayo held last April 5.
The ambiguous quality of Internet memes have been subject to research since 2011. This is what paves the way for a designation of new meanings that creates a sense of flexibility. With every user that is able to add a new twist or plot to the meme, it becomes more amorphous and far-reaching that it connects seemingly disparate ideas into relational entities.
A language of its own
Rao believes that memes are an effect of the post-everything world we live in. He explains the complex intertwinement of ideas in our fast-paced world by emphasizing that there is a distinction between the Harambe meme and the actual slain zoo gorilla. This is an age wherein stories are captured while they are still unfolding.
Rapid media technology is going faster than humans can process, which can warp and stunt the emotional reactions to current news. The shock caused by the 2016 American election results led to the creation of many Donald Trump memes pre- and post-elections, which have since been correlated with other memes. In a world freer than ever before, we are both repressed by our technological creations and freed by them.
The universality of meme sharing on social media platforms has made it difficult to continue a single train of thought. In his contribution to the book The Social Media Reader, Patrick Davison states that viewing and linking...is part of the meme, as is saving and reposting. Ironically, the ability of anyone to take part in the dialogue, by a multitude of means through memes, has orchestrated cacophonies. However, genuine relationships can still be formed in the ruckus.
Memes can prove to be a global inside joke amongst ourselves. They can be a way for us to make [some] sense [out] of confusing events and perhaps even cope with personal lost-ness. Memes are a way to get people to connect, says Alfred Marasigan, an Ateneo Fine Arts lecturer, during his talk in Arete 2017: Hayo.
The practice of meme creation draws up a vague sense of community among those who partake in meme sharing; this creates a mutual understanding of what the meme isand principally, what it can be. People partake in the definition production that sustains the meme vogue for as long as possible until a new one comes along to dominate the cyber sphere, while the former eventually dies out.
As old memes die, strong emotions from people who share the same experience come together to form a new meme. Interestingly, it has also been a medium for cultural and socio-political critique. According to Know Your Meme, which tracks the origin of memes, the Evil Kermit meme is an image of Kermit and his nemesis Constantine, who is dressed like a Star Wars Sith lord and instructs Kermit to perform various indulgent, lazy, selfish and unethical acts.
The meme has been used to point out religions underlying crusade tendencies and even question meme culture itself. Other examples include the nut button, which evolved from having sexual implications to anything that can trigger one to act strongly, Arthurs Fista reaction to situations that are frustrating or infuriating, and many more.
Show and tell
In the technologically-forward society we live in, the way culture is transferred from person to person is changing. Internet memes have revolutionized communication by their nature of transmuting meaning as it spreads. As expressions of our alienation from what our traditional memes can normally keep up with, it is vital to note that we are satirizing something that we cannot fully understand. The world is perpetually moving and memes are constantly angled towards a multitude of narratives.
Memes are like junk food, says Andrew Ty, a lecturer at the Ateneo Department of Communication. Their gratification is immediate and not long-lasting and you end up waiting for the next one very quickly. In the end, [memes] are just one part of this overall tendency nowadays towards viral communication.
A study conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany provided mathematical models to explain the temporality of memes. Internet memes are just fads, but they are ones that persist by coming back with the same vague appeal and rhetoricalbeit in different forms. Their vogue is infectious to the generation as of now. Soon, however, theyll be images of the past.
It may seem hard to see memes as something akin to Edo Japans The Floating World of Ukiyo-e, or even Victorian era post-mortem photographs, but they might just be one of our eras most distinguishing and awestriking depictions. After all, the meme is representative of a world moving faster than we can understand. As its uncanniness pulls us in, it is likely for memes to one day be an iconic portrayal of our generation.
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Posted: August 14, 2017 at 12:15 pm
Its all going off in the US, thats for sure. But something that has been bugging me, and many others, is the use of the term alt-right. This seems to be aterm to describe the rise of the right amongst social media and popular culture that we have seen over the last ten years or so. What this does, however, is lend an air of credibility to the views, people and outlets that is unwarranted.
The intro on Wikipediais perhaps worth posting here:
Thealt-right, oralternative right, is a loosely defined group ofpeoplewithfar-rightideologieswho rejectmainstream conservatismin favor ofwhite nationalism, principally in theUnited States, but also to a lesser degree inCanadaandEurope.Paul Gottfriedis the first person to use the term alternative right, when referring specifically to developments within American right-wing politics, in 2008.The term has since gained wide currency with the rise of the so-called alt-right.White supremacistRichard Spencercoined the term in 2010 in reference to a movement centered onwhite nationalism, and has been accused by some media publications of doing so to excuse overtracism,white supremacism, andneo-Nazism.The term drew considerable media attention and controversy during and after the2016 US presidential election.
Alt-rightbeliefshave been described asisolationist,protectionist,antisemitic, and white supremacist,frequently overlapping withNeo-Nazism,nativismandIslamophobia,antifeminismandhomophobia,right-wing populism,and theneoreactionary movement.The concept has further been associated with multiple groups fromAmerican nationalists, neo-monarchists,mens rights advocates, and the2016 presidential campaignofDonald Trump.
The alt-right has its roots onInternetwebsitessuch as4chanand8chan, where anonymous members create and useInternet memesto express their ideologies.It is difficult to tell how much of what people write in these venues is serious and how much is intended to provoke outrage.Members of the alt-right use websites likeAlternative Right,Twitter,Breitbart, andRedditto convey their message.Alt-right postings generally support Donald Trumpand opposeimmigration,multiculturalismandpolitical correctness.
The alt-right has also had a significant influence on conservative thought in the United States, such as theSailer Strategyfor winning political support, along with having close ties to theTrump Administration. It has been listed as a key reason for Trumps win in the 2016 election.The Trump administration includes several figures who are associated with the alt-right, such as White House Chief StrategistSteve Bannon.In 2016, Bannon described Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right, with the goal of promoting the ideology.
This reminds me of how UKIP ended up coming to prominence its a sort of evolution of ideas. I wrote about this back in 2014:
And what happened was this. UKIP busted the political landscape apart. They stole votes off most everyone and they went from zero to, well, hero in one night.
But how can a party which is effectively predicated upon fear of the foreigner and thinly, so very thinly, veiled racism become so successful in such a short time? This is my theory.
Firstly, there is the power of themere exposure effect. This is the fundamental concept of advertising whereby the brain finds things acceptable or even desirable through merely being exposed to the ideas. The more exposed, the more acceptable. UKIP have had a tremendous amount of airtime, with leader Nigel Farage doing the rounds on panel shows, radio shows and many news items. This is how creationism has prevailed, using the Wedge Strategy to get a foot in the door, get airtime, social media time, oxygen. That oxygen facilitates acceptability and then desirability. That was one of the arguments against having Bill Nye argue against Ken Ham about creationism.
Secondly, their success comes down to the evolution of ideas. Memetics is the theory that ideas are analagous to the evolution of biological organisms, with success of the organism surviving in its environment most successfully when it adapts characteristics to its environment. This survivability works just as well with ideas. Ideas which prevail have survival mechanisms and adapt to their environments. Think Christianity here. It has thoroughly evolved over 2000 years to adapt to society, morality, technology and economics. Islam, on the other hand, has developed the characteristic of threatening apostates with death. That works well, too.
Well, the history of the far right in Britain has gone from the National Front through to being reinvented into the British National Party (BNP) through to another reinvention (though the BNP still exist) in the form of UKIP (UKIPers might not like that realisation). What was going on in the early days of the right-wing extremist movement was that the ideas were not adapting well enough to the environments; they were too distasteful. The right-wing extremist ideology was just too much in the National Front to gather any traction with the general public. Then the BNP came along, and tried to be more respectable and appeal more widely. Some might say it was a slightly more (!) chilled version of the NF, appealing to more of the wider population. Ideas adapting. But still not becoming successful or acceptable enough.
And then UKIP, with its pseudo-political approach of getting out of Europe, has finally nailed it. Its just acceptable enough for people to not be afraid of saying in public, Yeah, I voted UKIP. I think we need to get out of Europe as a way of saying, Yeah, Polish, Romanian and those sodding Muslims can do one!
Now I didnt want to caricatureallUKIP voters in this way, but I stand by the idea that UKIP became the acceptable face of racism and xenophobia, playing into peoples fears.
In the same way, in the US, media outlets like Breitbart, TheBlaze, Circa, The Daily Caller and any other number of outlets are presenting themselves as fertile ground out of which confidence and brazen admitting of nefarious view can bear fruit. It is little surprise, then, that after years of allowing such outletsfree reign to spread their hate, the hate manifests itself in real ways. Thats the regrettable corollary of freedom of speech.
The terrible sights of Charlottesville over the last few days show that the old school far right has not died off, but has been simmering, and some have renamed it the alt-right. This merely disguises the ugly reality of the traditional far right and dresses it up in an air of acceptability and modern credibility.
This is unwarranted.
Dont be fooled by new-fangled terminology. The is the far right, and so many of these outlets peddle such extremist views.
I am disheartened by the sheer scope and spread of such views and how they have been able to gain footholds in modern popular culture. The internet is great, but it also houses torrents of distaste and hate.
Alt-right? Nah. Its still the far right, the dangerous extreme. Lets not give it more oxygen than it deserves.
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Posted: July 28, 2017 at 7:14 pm
The Most Influential Memes on the Internet
Dawkins theory of the meme gave rise to the field of memetics in the 1990's which seeks to link the scientific concept of the meme with identifiable evidence using the scientific method. The popular Internet meme is something people can imitate in ...
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Posted: July 26, 2017 at 4:17 pm
On July 19, the Anti-Defamation League kicked the pro-Trump media hornets nest with the publication of a new report cataloging the factions of the alt-right and their key voices. It also prompted the question: How do you classify a hate group in 2017?
Titled From Alt Right to Alt Lite: Naming The Hate," the ADL report attempts to define those movements, noting the meaningful differences between the two and listing 36 personalities closely associated with them. For example, the moniker alt-lite was coined by the alt-right in order to differentiate itself from those in the pro-Trump world who denounce white supremacist ideology.
The report's publication sparked near-immediate outrage from some of those who were included. New Right personality Mike Cernovich lambasted the ADLs report as a hit list of political opponents," alleging that by including him on a list of hate leaders, the organization had made him and his family targets of an intolerant and violent left that murder[s] those the ADL disagrees with politically." Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump Twitter personality, took an equally combative stance. On vacation in Poland, he tweeted a short video from Auschwitz. "It would be wise of the ADL to remember the history of what happened the last time people started going around making lists of undesirables," he said, panning the camera across the concentration camp.
Over the next few days, the controversy gathered considerable momentum on Twitter. Cernovichs followers tweeted prayers for the safety of him and his family, and condemned the ADL. Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft called the organizations report a death list, while his White House reporter, Lucian Wintrich, decried the ADL as a liberal terrorist organization. Rebel Medias Gavin McInnes named on the list along with Wintrich threatened to sue the living shit out of everyone even remotely involved. The hashtag #ADLterror trended for a few hours. Last week, Republican Senate candidate and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel jumped into the controversy, siding with Cernovich and chastising the ADL.
But beneath all the murk and outrage and alt-right/alt-lite/New Right semantics was a reasonable question: In the Trump era, where is the line between hate speech and the extremist, often outlandish, conspiracy-propagating messaging of those movements?
For Cernovich who played a role in the Twitter propagation of the #Pizzagate conspiracy and has a history of tweeting incendiary opinions from everything from date rape and immigration (much of which he has argued was clear satire) the line doesn't fall anywhere near him. He argues that, while his statements might not be politically correct or always in good taste, they aren't hate speech, and certainly dont make him a member of a hate group.
What does the ADL have on me? Some satirical tweets, hell, even some mean tweets and stuff I'm not proud of? Cernovich told BuzzFeed News in response to the report. I have a lot of liberal friends. Many of them in high places. They think I'm an asshole, but 'hate group' has them livid.
Cernovich insists hes being unfairly targeted for his pro-Trump views. "This tweet mining bullshit is only used on the right," he argued. In his view, the New Right is a movement defined not by discrimination or hateful rhetoric, but by pugnacious political commentary and debate. It is nothing, he says, like the alt-right of Richard Spencer, which hews toward a race-based white nationalism. As with Trump himself, the New Rights true ideology isnt always clear, and the group tends to behave more as a pro-Trump media arm than as an ideological group. Its main target isnt a protected race or religion, but the mainstream media. It doesnt behave quite like any traditional hate group. So can it be called one?
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, the ADL argued that it most certainly can. I don't think irony and self-promotion is an excuse for bigotry of any kind, whether its misogyny or any other form of bigotry, said Oren Segal, who runs the ADL's Center on Extremism. Doing it in a way that's more modern or tech-y doesn't make it OK nor does it make it any less difficult for those who've been impacted.
"I don't think irony and self-promotion is an excuse for bigotry of any kind."
Segal noted that the alt-lite or New Right while not particularly well-defined as a movement includes individuals with extremist views. "These are people who are on the record with anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred and misogyny people who support trolling, he said in defense of the ADLs report.
Jeff Giesea, an entrepreneur and consultant who helped organize the pro-Trump DeploraBall an inaugural ball to celebrate the work of the pro-Trump internet sees the ADLs decision to categorize the New Right as hate group personalities as a bridge too far. Based on the ADL's logic, all 63 million Americans who voted for Trump should be on their hate list. If everyone is an extremist, no one is, he told BuzzFeed News.
Giesea argues that, historically, Cernovichs views are quite moderate. Perhaps more importantly, he contends that the New Rights strategy to promote a pro-Trump agenda via an ongoing, meme-fueled assault on the mainstream media is a new kind of political discourse.
"By being so quick to label something 'bigotry,' the ADL is getting in the way of the healthy exchange of ideas, Giesea said. It pushes people further right by pathologizing common sense. It is a mode of social control that simply doesn't work in the age of social media."
Based on the ADL's logic, all 63 million Americans who voted for Trump should be on their hate list."
Since the beginning of the 2016 election our political discourse has become increasingly fraught, muddied by misinformation and trolling from the fringes of both sides of the aisle. And within this morass, a reflex has emerged on both sides to reflexively label political disagreements as signs of hate. Back in April, the internet erupted over Cernovich and another pro-Trump reporter flashing the "OK" sign at the podium in the White House Briefing Room. A number of news outlets misidentified the sign as a white power symbol, falling for a trap laid by pro-Trump trolls who had been trying to trick the media into thinking the meaningless symbol had nefarious origins. The incident sparked a defamation lawsuit filed by one of the pro-Trump reporters, as well as an existential argument around when exactly a symbol morphs from an ironic troll to a real sign of hate.
Giesea has run this over in his mind frequently, and argues that theres more nuance and craft to the pro-Trump movements tactics. "Memetics is a form of art," he said. Shock and controversy is what makes memes effective. They push moral boundaries. Sometimes this is healthy and can challenge certain narratives, other times it can feel toxic and juvenile. Think about it - what memes would Voltaire share?" Giesea concedes that there are moral considerations to social media behavior, but suggests that the ADL list feels like an act of political warfare, rather than a good faith attempt to discuss these issues."
Ultimately, the problem appears to be definitional. For Heidi Beirich, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Centers Intelligence Project, the alt-right and alt-lite movements may be fluid, but the definition of hate is not. Beirich says the SPLC follows roughly the same standards for defining hate groups as the FBI uses for hate crimes. In a recent op-ed for Huffington Post, SPLC President Richard Cohen defined a hate group as those that have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
We don't care as much about the pro-Trump stuff, Beirich told BuzzFeed News. It's the specific policies we're worried about whether it's anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant. For example, she noted that despite articles with anti-immigrant sentiment, we're not going to list a publication like Breitbart as a hate group unless they publish much more stuff thats much further over the line.
In trying to categorize the Cernoviches and Posobiecs of the world, Beirich said its best to categorize them on a case-by-case basis, remembering that hate speech isn't necessarily the only (or most) relevant category. Take Pizzagate, she said. We've written about anti-government conspiracy theorists since the 1990s and that's a different thing than our hate lists it doesnt excuse the behavior, but its different.
The ADL sees no such difference and, on its Naming the Hate report, is standing its ground. To Segal, the fact that the behavior of the New Right doesnt follow the established patterns of other fringe movements is reason enough to worry about its evolution and growth. In a sense this rhetoric is potentially more harmful because it's not so clearly being promoted as hate, he told BuzzFeed News. I think we can see through that. If they call it a joke, we're not laughing.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at email@example.com.
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