Friday 7 September 2012

where do we go from here?

Now that our research blog is coming to an end *tear* it is time to begin work on the main event. After blogging our ideas and insights surrounding all things memes, we need to refine our ideas (we have already begun this process by narrowing our definition of a meme is in relation to our web feature) - and focus on a few prominent ones that will provide great stimulus for reader discussion and comment.

Each member of the group will be designated a feature which they will work on. So in total we should have four feature articles. Then tasks will be split again depending on skill set - we will need a layout designer, graphic designer, timeline/ slideshow creator and video animator as well as someone to work on the 'history of memes' and 'how to build a successful meme' (these could easily be group tasks). 

Our next point of call is to decide on the feature each member wants to work on and start collating any research material and contacting any interview subjects whilst beginning to build the foundation of our web feature layout and accompanying graphics so we can get a better feel for the ease of navigation and overall aesthetic.

We have also decided to stick our initial publication choice Vulture, as we all agreed that our intended style of writing, the content and target audience is a perfect fit. We will use mainly American examples to illustrate our points (geared towards New York specific content also) and will also maintain a similar format and voice to articles written in Vulture.

So long as we stick to completing tasks in line with our proposed work plan, we should be heading in the right direction to creating an insightful, thought-provoking,  entertaining and informational web feature.

Video Ideas: Comic-based

The group has agreed for quite some time that we would definitely want to include a video made by us on one of our feature pages. Jonno posted earlier about the possibility of creating a typography-based video, as it suits the topic very well and they're always a very engaging way of discussing a topic in the format of a video without the need to physically film anything.

But we've since realised that none of us really knows how to go about putting together a typography-based video. While they seem simple, they are actually incredibly technical pieces of art that requires a very specific form of animation and video editing using programs such as Adobe After Effects to achieve effectively.

The main draw for using a typography-based video was that due to our topic - memes, in particular image-based memes - there really isn't any reason to film any actual real-life footage. But on the same vein of videos that do not require camera footage, there is actually an alternative genre that is very appropriate considering the topic we will be discussing.

Zero Punctuation is a game review web series produced by The Escapist magazine that has really popularised the comic-based video genre. What's great about this form of video is that it is essentially just a slideshow of static images, in this case single frames of drawn comics. No fancy animation or video editing skills required - just place the images one after the other. It sounds tacky, but that's the allure of it.

Another reason why this genre is so perfect for our purposes is the fact that so many memes originated from or are expressed via comics. Take for example trollface and other rage comics or the more recent "Dolan" meme.

I think this will be a much easier format for us to produce, and it's an appropriate genre for our feature on memes!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Focussing in

After discussing all our ideas for our feature and all the different kinds of memes, different perspectives and different mediums, we came to a realisation - we have too many ideas.

Source: MemeCenter
We don't want our final feature to be a mess of a dumping ground for everything meme, with nothing really connecting or reaching a coherent goal. So we've decided to confine our exploration to to a more specific theme and medium.

Our feature will be focussed on image-based memes. In previous blog posts we've examined viral videos, ideas that have become memes, and memes outside of the internet. All of this has been great as a foundational scatter-gun approach to the whole concept of memes, but not necessarily appropriate for a standalone feature based on a single unifying theme.

The problem is, the concept of "memes" as a whole is just way too broad. But confining our research and discussion to the social significance of image-based memes will allow us to more effectively bring our feature together with a clear focus.

There are a number of terms floating around these days that are connected with image-based memes. Demotivators were an early form of the medium, for example the above image. Characterised by their black backgrounds with a typically white or sometimes coloured border around the image, demotivators were used to signify a single word or idea by placing them in a large serif font accompanied by an illustrative (usually humorous) image and a tagline. These were originally created as spoofs of motivational posters often found in corporate offices in the late '90s.

From demotivators, we now have the term image macros. This is a terms used to describe, broadly, captioned images that typically consist of a picture and a witty message. Demotivators were a relatively early form of image macros (relative to the time in which modern internet memes have been popular), but these days most image macros almost always use large white text in the font "Impact". Within the genre, snowclones can be seen as a sub-set or sub-genre of image macros, where the text typically follows a specific format. For example, "X all the Ys," "In Soviet Russia, X Ys you," or "X is the new Y." In particular, these have been made popular by sites such as Meme Generator.

So from here on out, we're going to endeavour to focus our discussions and research on image-based memes. Other types of memes are relevant and they will certainly deserve a mention, but we envision that our feature will now be a far more coherent and directed product.

Video Ideas: Typography

So we've been trying to think of ways for how we can "use the medium" to it's full potential.  A typography video would be a neat (yes neat...) way to explore some of our ideas, perhaps about the origins  of memes or even any of the issues we cover.

The video below is way more complicated than what we would probably be able to do, but still pretty inspiring and a good watch.  It was one of the first typography/animation style videos that I ever saw, back when I was in high school.  Ever since then I've really liked the style and I've seen tonnes of videos utilising the form as a really informative and entertaining way of getting information across. 

It's definitely way more complex than what I was thinking, but something more along the lines of the next one, purely word-based, could be a bit easier?  I don't have much experience with making these sort of videos, my use of Flash or Adobe After Effects is limited to a brief dabbling in high school classes but nothing ever so sophisticated.  Perhaps one of you have some experience?  Otherwise maybe we can discuss a way of doing it that would be easier...

Let me know what you guys think!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

the meme network.

When I found Sydney Uni Memes earlier this year I thought it was the funniest thing ever. I practically liked every post and shared them all on my wall. University meme pages represent a shift from specialised meme and image sharing communities like Know Your Meme, 4Chan and Reddit and towards more broader, widespread platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Know Your Meme notes the earliest Facebook memes pages was created for Florida International University of Miami in October 2011, uploading a 'Y U No' image macro related to their football team. More university meme pages started appearing en-masse around February of this year and have almost become a necessary component of every tertiary educational institution. This has since encouraged high school meme pages (just the other day I saw old high school acquaintances like HGHS memes) and now even narrowing it down to suburb or area (that's Hills Shire memes for me). 

So why are university related memes so popular? It references certain experiences and in-jokes that only students of a particular institution will understand - from wi-fi connectivity frustrations to avoiding USU election candidates on Eastern Avenue. It gives viewers a sense of belonging (yes that dreaded word) and inclusivity into a certain group of like minded individuals. It's just like the cultural currency  you hold when someone makes a pop culture reference/ joke and you understand its source (therefore giving you authority to partake in the humour).

While we had previously discussed the idea that the internet meme is to some extent a new form of communication (in terms of expressing particular feelings and frustrations with day to day life), it was brought to our attention during our proposal that memes are also a form of networking and bringing people together. Although Sydney university has over 50,000+ undergraduate students and in our four years or so of tertiary education we would have only encountered a small portion of USYD population, we can all come together share a laugh or two and vent our annoyances through the convenience and familiarity of a social media platform.

When any cultural trend or phenomenon has the power to change the way and channels in which we connect and communicate with one another, it's certainly more than just a passing fad. I think our web feature will certainly be testament to just how influential memes have been in shaping society (and also how sociocultural ideals are embedded in the meme format). 

More than just a meme.

Source: Meme Centre

The 60's was defined by Vietnam War, The Beatles, Woodstock and the first man on the moon. The 80's were known for arcade games, bad hair cuts, Michael Jackson and boomboxes. But what cultural products will symbolise our generation?

In considering our high culture perspective on a low culture topic, I pondered the significance of memes in popular culture. While it is easy to dismiss memes as nothing more than a joke, the fact that internet material has been spread profusely over the last ten years (we traced it back to 1998 and All Your Base Are Belong To Us) and has grown exponentially in terms of exposure means that it probably not just a passing fad or a trend. From my observations thus far I think it would be safe to say that memes both reflect and shape our cultural realities. 

Popular culture has always been influenced by and is a commentary of significant events of our time. If music, television and movies have the power to shape our understanding of culture, then surely the internet and memes are not different?

I see our web feature as being able to answer this question, to uncover and deconstruct the internet meme genre and document its effect in popular culture. I think it's a great time to be asking this question as well as there is very little material on this topic. There are plenty of platforms and forums of which to share meme content but none detailing its significance or the nature of viral content. Especially since memes have gone beyond that of specific forums like Reddit and 4Chan which are catered to a very specific audience with an extensive knowledge of certain pop culture topics like film and games to a broader mass medium like Facebook. The actual content of memes themselves indeed have a more mass appeal (as I detailed in my first post) allowing for wider reach and much of the humour is no longer specific to a particular event or issue - in fact it can be reshaped and catered to suit the experiences of any one (like the way colleges and specific suburbs have meme pages on Facebook).

It's obviously quite a heavy question, one which we we can endeavour to provide answers (or at the very least insight) to our target audience, the meme user. We hope that our audiences' daily interaction with memes will spark a need to understand what significance their meme sharing and creating has on the shaping and reflection of culture. It will be interesting to see historians looking back on our generation one day and wondering how something as ridiculous as planking was legitimate trending behaviour or how pictures of funny cats with incorrect grammar was found to be so humourous to so many people.

But wait... what about real life?

We know by now that the term "meme" was originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976, adapting the Greek word mimeme (something imitated; pronounced "mimema") to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Nowadays, the term is more commonly used to describe digital creations of various mediums that are passed electronically from internet user to internet user and are often adapted or remixed with each transfer.

But whatever happened to memes before the internet? The term obviously existed well before the internet became so widespread, but where did they live during those prehistoric times?

One example you might remember was the popularity of the late Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. His show was a big hit both in Australia and overseas (with particular success in America) during the early 2000s, and one would have been hard-pressed to find someone that did now know his name. But what was far more well-known were his iconic shouts of "Crikey!" upon sighting an animal in the wild or whenever a croc lunged. As a result, Irwin had people all over the world imitating him in everyday life.

In the same vein of nature programs, Sir David Attenborough's celebrated wildlife documentaries was another platform for the birth of a meme without the need for the internet. His recognisable British accent and the classic opening line "...and here we see the ____ in its natural habitat..." have been imitated and appropriated and again and again in popular culture. 

Source: EPA
Caleb has also discussed the creation of memes based on television shows, and Mel has written about Olympics memes which have spread via television and print media. Does this mean that memes always require such a medium - the internet, TV, print, radio - to carry them and allow them to spread? I would suggest not, but it certainly makes it a helluva lot easier.

What about another famous figure - Queen Elizabeth II. Her iconic wave - fingers together, arm unmoving, minimal wrist rotation - has come to symbolise the Queen as a person or royalty in general. Here is a meme that has spread (arguably) without the intervention of any medium.

What's interesting, particularly from a semiotics perspective, is the way in which words, phrases or the smallest of gestures can come to symbolise a person or idea. The term "meme" has truly reflects its Greek roots - the creation and growth of these ideas are catalysed by imitation and mimicry. The question is: what's required to elevate something like an expression or a wave to viral status of a meme? And what avenues exist that do not rely on the internet? This is definitely an area for further enquiry and research in the course of our feature.