Friday, November 14, 2014

How memes frame religion

For this week's blog, I will answer the following questions:

1. What success strategies are used for memes to be reproduced, spread easily and repackaged?
2. How do these success strategies frame ideas about religion in my meme sample?

Meme 1

The first success strategy I will look at is the "provocation of strong emotions"(which I discussed in the previous post) (96) in the Santa Capitalist meme. In the meme above, we have Santa positioned towards the viewer, winking with a hand on his spectacles. People generally think of Santa as jovial and happy and not associated with any negative feeling. In this case, rather than discussing the "Naughty or Nice" list Santa is suggesting that Christians are hypocritical. Christians value the sanctity of Christmas as a religious holiday, while some would rather not have the pagan portion of the holiday  be labeled as religious. The meme suggests that they value authenticity and transparancy, when not only discussing faith, but practicing it as well. The atheist would rather not have faith and be authentic then for the case to be opposite. This meme evokes a strong response because it address the topic of lived religion — if Christians are going to be Christians than they need to not be hypocritical. The simple packaging of the meme also makes it more shareable.

Meme 2

According to Shifman, some memes evolve to be "memetic: content units that generate user-created derivatives in the form of remakes, parodies, or imitations." In the meme above we have, what I assume to be some sort of traditional Christian minister with his hand raised, likely trying to make a point about something. The person in the meme is in what Shifman would call "frozen motion," where the photos feature ordinary people who are "captured during an intense movement that is 'frozen' in time" (92). Shifman notes how they are usually captured when they are not in their most flattering of movements (92) where they are in a moment of "great instability" and we as the audience are supposed to finish their movements with out conversation.

 In the Atheist Meme Base community, an unidentified character "Twig" is often the main person who posts memes. He writes for the above meme as follows: "This is called an "argument from ignorance." It is used frighteningly often by religious people arguing in favor of their favorite deity." Of course the person in the meme isn't actually saying what is referenced in the text, however is to undermine the idea that God (or any religious deity) can be used as a blanket response to people's questions. Once again, these meme's call into question lived religion and the finiteness of discussion. The implication is that religious people are close minded and unwilling to explore other ideas because of their belief, likely in biblical infallibility. By using frozen motion, this meme displays how one may think a religious person would respond when in conversation about things they aren't certain about.

Meme 3

For my last meme, I chose this particular meme: the "crying girl" first world problems meme. 
This meme stems the humorous "first world problems" tag line that has spawned various images from the saying. This image, is an image macro that originated off of She usually is upset about a trivial subject. 

The meme is clearly sarcastic and from an atheist perspective. If anything this meme uses both humor and simple packaging. This is a meme which is recognizable, which is why out of any of the memes on this post, it has the most shares and likes on the Atheist meme Facebook page. The humor is that she's crying because she can't validate her point to the atheist, because the atheist relies on logic. Implied in the meme, this girl is sans logic, or like other Christians, sans logic as well. (from the perspective of the person who posted the meme). This meme is framing monotheistic religions as incapable of adequately explaining their faith to make it believable.

None of the above memes ascribe to a particular genre, with the exception of the "Crying girl" photo because she is widely circulated for a variety of "first world problem" subjects.
According to Shifman, meme genres share "stylistic" and "structural" features and "themes, topics, and intended audiences" (98). Shifman references the term "vernacular creativity," (written by Jean Burgess) which is the "every day innovative and artistic practices that can be carried out through simple production means" (98).

Meme 3 would likely be considered a stock image macro. "Crying Girl" is not an advice animal image, (which image macros are usually ascribed to), but the meme does focus on the "success and failure in the social life of a particular group" (Shifman 113). In the case of this "crying girl" meme, she is not able to convey to her atheist friends that God is real with concrete proof. In this particular Facebook community, proof and tangibility seem to be key when discussing monotheistic religions.

For meme 1 and 2, I would label their genres as "figures of well-known cultural authority." As we;ve discussed above — that memes fit well into genres because of their easy, every day relatable practices they convey. These memes are not viral and/or that popular, but two recognizable figures are represented — Santa Claus and some kind of Christian minister or pastor. Santa Claus, culturally, is known for discerning right and wrong. So are Christian pastors to some extent. On a spectrum, both are gatekeepers of morality.  The only difference between the two memes is that meme 2 uses its authority figure (the pastor) to emit ignorance versus knowledge and reasoning. What these memes could be suggesting is that authority figures do not always have the right answers, and that those who do speak about religion with authority (maybe some Christians) — their hypocrisy super cedes their reasoning.

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