Memes and Appropriation

Memes. They’re sometimes called the language of the internet, pictures, and animated .gifs that we use to express our feelings and emotions in a way that people will understand and empathise with in a very different way to the written word. In some ways this makes them great, they are a way for people without a common language to communicate, and a way for those who may struggle with words to speak to the world. Which is a wonderful thing.

However, most of these photos are totally disconnected from the people in them, especially once the internet gets a hold of them. Today the BBC published an editorial from a man whose wedding photos had become a tumblr meme. It is well worth a read, as he explains his feelings on having such an important moment of his life co-opted for other people’s thoughts, feelings, and even jokes and insults. Once a photo has spread to the point where it has become a meme, it seems that we consider it completely public property. We talk a lot nowadays about how important photos are, especially when we take so many, but we don’t really think how it might feel to have a photo which has certain memories attached to it, callously appropriated in such a way. Even positive versions of the memes must create a massive ‘disconnect’, and negative ones – sadly, there were a lot of rascist ones from in this instance – are incredibly intrusive. This has happened before with famous memes – remember ‘Scumbag Steve’ as the guy in this picture ended up being dubbed?

Memes have been around for years, it’s not something that can be stopped and I’m not sure that I would want to stop. I do believe that they have value and I’ll be honest, I love lolcats too (who doesn’t.) But it’s a trend with a dark side, that needs to be recognised and understood.

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