One of the earliest forms of entertainment to spread across the internet was humor (Kuipers, 2006). The features of the internet turned the spread of content into a visible process, within it humorous user generated content as a whole, and internet memes in particular (Shifman, 2011). Based on Shifman’s (2011) categories of humor, I can identify the sampled memes as related to two groups – the first, the ‘Incongruent’ group of memes, revels memes that feature “an unexpected cognitive encounter between two incongruent elements” (Shifman, 2011). For example, The “Hanukkah and Santa” meme, in which Santa Claus mistakenly slides down the chimney of a Jewish family kindling the Hanukkah Menorah. The encounter of the two religious rituals creates a comic effect, but at the same time reinforces the implementation of religious rituals. The Jewish characters in the meme are portrayed as religious – the father is wearing a black suit and a black hat, identified with Haredi Judaism, he has long sidelocks and a beard. The mother and the daughter wear pious cloths: long skirts and long-sleeved shirt; and the young boy wear a kippah. On their table there are dreidels and traditional Hanukkah foods including potato pancakes and jam-filled doughnuts. On the mantel there are candlesticks used for the lighting of Shabbat candles. This meme simultaneously creates a comic message and a religious reinforcement of normative religious rituals.
The second category of memes found in the sample is the “superior” memes, featuring unintentionally funny message. The meme of Adele is one example, when her facial expression coupled with the typo of the “Ad Lo Yada” (Until one no longer knows) creates a new meaning in Hebrew – “Adele no longer knows” referring to one of Purim’s tradition of drinking wine in order to keep with the jovial nature of the Purim feast.
A third type of meme, not included in Shifman’s (2011) categorization was found in my sample. This is a meme that features Disney’s Aladdin character, and can be recognized as ethnic or racist humor. This kind of humor employs race stereotypes, as can be seen in said meme, published during Passover. In this meme, Aladdin eats bread (which is forbidden during Passoverfor European Ashkenazi Jews) and the written text states – “thank god for making me Yemeni in Passover”. This meme can be interpreted as an attitude toward the Ashkenazi perception of the lightly religious demands employed on oriental Jews, among them the Yemeni Jews. This meme’s humor labels the Yemeni Jews (as an indicator of all oriental Jews) as religiously inferior, and the Ashkenazi Jews as more religiously devoted. This kind of religious humor can rhetorically support racist conceptions of ‘truth’ (Weaver, 2011) especially in the ethnically torn Israeli society. In my last blog post I have suggested that function as a tool for reinforcing religious acts and creating clear religious boundaries of the community. The example of the Yemeni meme demonstrates this conclusion but also adds another cultural layer of cultural-ethnic-religious boundaries maintenance.
Case study question:
Based on Jenkins’s description of convergence culture and participatory culture, Shifman’s representation of the internet as a postmodern field of representation and Amerman’s definition of lived religion as highly individual, self-authorized practice, I would like to focus my case study on the question:
What are the features of the Jewish internet meme, and how do these features represent the postmodern nature of online participation?
Kuipers, G. (2006). The social construction of digital danger: debating, defusing and inflating the moral dangers of online humor and pornography in the Netherlands and the United States. New Media and Society, 8, (3), 379-400.
Shifman, L. (2011). An Anatomy of a YouTube Meme. New Media and Society, 14, (2), 187-203.
Weaver, S. (2011). Jokes, rhetoric and embodied racism: a rhetorical discourse of racist jokes on the internet. Ethnicities, 11, (4), 413-435.