Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Muslim Memes Blogpost 1: Memes and Prosumption

Muslim Memes is a Facebook Page "strictly for amusement and not to offend anyone or any religion" (About section). The subject of the memes is Islam and the various rituals and key elements of the religion and being a Muslim. The memes are usually humorous and combine Islamic and non-Islamic elements.

I chose specifically to examine memes that juxtaposed Islam and popular culture. Most of these have a popular culture image with text references to Islam or being a Muslim like the one above (while parental approval is not specific to the Muslim experience it is a phenomenon that many Muslims may relate to); one meme selected is reversed, with a picture of Muslims praying and the caption “One Direction,” a reference to the pop music group.

These selections were in contrast to memes which are generated with specific images designed for memes. For instance, Bad Luck Brian, seen below, is specifically a meme image whereas Aladdin is a popular cultural image. In other words, meme images refer only to themselves as texts, while pop culture images draw meaning from outside the actual image. A total of one dozen memes were selected from August 2012 to the present to study (posts about specific memes will come in the following weeks).

The memes selected were produced with popular cultural elements layered with text which give the entire image a very specific meaning for those literate in both popular culture and Islam. I find this an interesting phenomenon because the general picture of Muslims and Islam is that they are fundamentalist not only in terms of dogma but perhaps also in terms of culture. The fact that many Muslim women wear hijabs may perpetuate this perception. However, this perception seems to be challenged within the Muslim Memes Facebook Page because the viewers of the memes must be literate in the religion but also in popular culture, implying that the viewers of this page, at least, are well versed and engaging with broader pop phenomena.

Using popular cultural images like Captain Jack Sparrow or Ned Stark staring into the distance to create images with new meanings and interpretations may be example of Jenkins' participatory culture in a couple of respects. Firstly, images are replicated and then layered with text to create additional meaning for a specific audience (in this case, Muslims); anyone can do this. People generate meaning from these images without fear of repercussions from original artists or intellectual property holders. Secondly, these images, generated by people whom Axel Bruns (2008) calls produsers, are then shared person to person or broadly through social networks. Sharing these memes on the user level may also be emblematic of a participatory culture.

A thorough analysis of the memes in the coming weeks will hopefully yield further insight into how this particular element of digital culture shape the religion of Islam and the Muslim memes generated from it. I hope specifically to explore notions of authority and expression of identity outside the confines of traditional community or Mosques.

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