Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Memes & Prosumption: The Buddy Christ

The Buddy Christ meme has maintained an online presence for nearly 10 years.  Hundreds of meme variants have emerged over that time span, and interest in the meme is no longer as intense as it was after its inception.  Recently, it appears to be more common for users to post pictures of a Buddy Christ figurine in personifying situations, such as attending a concert.  Due to the general waning of interest in the Buddy Christ, I may need to consider these images and their accompanying text as part of my case study as well.  Because I am interested in studying how the Buddy Christ meme is used to caricaturize institutionalized Christian practices and beliefs, I will be selecting and examining memes that explicitly refer to and parody liturgical Christian practice (such as the sacrament of communion, an example of which is posted here) or traditional beliefs (e.g., the immoral nature of contraceptive or abortive practices).  To my knowledge, there are no dedicated pages for the Buddy Christ meme on Facebook or other social media sites where individuals might interact in a forum style about the memes.  However, the Buddy Christ meme is often mentioned or tagged on Twitter and Tumblr; therefore, I have been searching these sites for reposts of the meme as well as user commentary regarding religious practice submitted within the past 8-12 months.

For every Buddy Christ meme, the image is the same as that pictured above.  The entire frame of the meme is filled up by the colorful image of Buddy Christ.  In accordance with typical meme style, large white text can be found at the top and bottom of the meme image.  On some microblogging sites, and in particular Twitter, the Buddy Christ meme is posted as an image without white text; in these cases, the user typically adds commentary to match the image that can be found in the tweet attached to the image.  These memes assemble traditional Christian meanings with added sarcastic commentary to generate new messages and meanings about traditional Christian practices and beliefs.  The meme posted above uses the Buddy Christ caricature as well as the phrase “the body of Christ” to denote a message about the sacrament of communion, a traditional Christian practice that involves the eating and drinking of food which symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus of Nazareth.  Then, the image modifies that message with the word “snackrelicious”, a play on the words snack, sacrilege, and delicious.  The total assembly of this image and text connotes the meaning that the creator does not respond to the authority of this sacred practice as seriously as a practitioner of traditional Christian practice would.

The image of Buddy Christ is an intentional mockery of the crucifixes and icons of Jesus of Nazareth that adorn many traditional Christian churches.  While the hair, beard, and robe of the Buddy Christ image match typical depictions of Jesus, the large grin, winking eye, and thumbs up symbol visually denote a departure in meaning from more common portrayals of Jesus.  Furthermore, the text that the Buddy Christ meme is derived from is widely known to be a sarcastic commentary on organized religion; because users of the Buddy Christ meme are often fans of the movie Dogma, they typically intend to use the meme in order to express an alignment of their perspective on religion with that of the film from which the meme emerged.

The Buddy Christ image is derived from fan culture surrounding the movie Dogma.  Thus, it could be said that the creation and posting of Buddy Christ images are an active reshaping of this fan mythology to satisfy religious fantasies.  In other words, users of the meme may fantasize about shaming religious institutions or even subverting their authority altogether; the creation of the Buddy Christ meme is an expression of that fantasy.  Also, the meme uses humor to reject the traditional expert paradigm that is so pervasive throughout mainstream Christian culture regarding Christian institutions.  The Buddy Christ meme provides producers with an opportunity to respond to traditional Christian practice and authority in a format that is less threatening for both the meme producer and Christian organizations.

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