Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Humor and Religion Online: Christian Memes

This particular collection of memes seems to communicate religious messages in different ways. For instance, there are several memes that focus on a play of words. The meme below “Wok by Faith” uses the equivocality of the words “wok” and “walk” for use in a common Christian phrase, “walk by faith.” Some may argue that this enforce an old phrase for Christians to make decisions in their everyday life based on their faith alone. I see this meme as fitting into the “playfulness” category outlined by Shifman (2011). The humor seems to be “enjoyed for its own sake,” (p. 196). Another example of a meme that fits into this category is “1 John.” Here we have a picture of the first “john,” which is a slang term for toilet, overlaid with the caption “1 John." It is a play on words. It is a game the meme creator is inviting the reader of the meme to engage. “Figure it out if you can,” seems to be the challenge. One could also suggest that it also fits into Shifman’s (2011) “incongruity” attribute. The image and the text are puns, two incongruous meanings juxtaposed in the same artifact.

Other memes in the collection make statements about how religious meaning is contextualized in today’s culture and about how that meaning should be played out in everyday life.  For instance, the Scumbag Steve meme is used to point out behaviors, or lack of behaviors, that are problematic for a Christian. The text on this meme reads, “Lights a candle. Puts it under a Bushel.” There are several layers to this meme. Scumbag Steve is the image that implies the meaning of wrong behavior. The text refers to a song probably all Christian children learn in Sunday School, “This Little Light of Mine.” The song is a call to evangelization. Good Christians take their light – their knowledge of the Gospel and relationship with Jesus Christ – and let it shine – share that knowledge with other. They do not hide it under a bushel – keep it to them selves. Therefore the meme is a call to action for Christians to share their faith with others and avoid acting like Scumbag Steve. These examples seem to fall into Shifman’s (2011) “superiority” category of meme humor. The “good Christians” can laugh at these memes because their inclusion or exclusion from the group being lauded or reprimanded underpins their sense of belonging, which reinforces their superiority.

Taken as a whole, these memes seem to frame religion as everyday lived experience. They mix religious references with cultural references as a way to contextualize their religious belief within the secular world. Memes could also be seen as a way to negotiate and/or solidify group identity. Good Christians act in certain ways and not in others. This collection of memes seem to communicate norms as a way to (re)create religious meaning and practice.

Based on the past two blog analyses, I propose the following research questions:

RQ1: How do memes from Christian Memes juxtapose religious and cultural images and texts in order to communicate about everyday lived religion?

RQ2: How do these memes use humor to (re)create the religious community's identity?

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