Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Advice God" - Key Finding

"Advice god" meme series is a collection of memes featuring the image of the Judo-Christian god, as depicted in Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam centered in the background used for the meme series "advice animals" (colorful triangles). During this study, 12 memes were chosen from meme websites (Such as:,, as well as a Facebook group and a blog which featured the meme.  The sampling strategy was focused on representing two aspects: The memes' construction process and memes which had audience reactions (that is, memes published in the blog and Facebook page). The focus was to explore the presentation of religion in these anti-religious memes.
As noted, these memes present god as an ethically questionable entity and of religion as contradictory and ridiculous. One clear example of that is the title of the page presenting the memes: "God is an Epic Troll: The Best of the Advice God Meme".
Through the process of spreading, creating and commenting on these memes, users take part in embedding meaning to religion – albeit, a negative one. Therefore, one of the key findings of this study is the need to distinguish between memes about religion and religious memes. The above added meme tries to tackle this understanding by asking if any meme with a religious symbol, is necessary a religious meme.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Twitting Orthodoxies Memes - A summary

"TwittingOrthodoxies"  is an Israeli-Jewish Facebook page, which features posting on Israeli-Jewish religious practices, community and cultural topics including memes. A sampling of memes appearing from September 2012 to August 2013, one meme per month, was taken to create a representation of memes focused around Jewish holidays and religious events, but also day-to-day routines. Selected memes employed images and texts drawing on international popular culture content (i.e. content related to movies, celebrities and organizations) combined with expressions of Jewish commandments, rituals and sacred texts. These memes are produced in Hebrew and were translated to English for this study.
This case study stresses that digital culture creates a space for lived religious practice, so religion can function as an exegetical frame that can engages secular, popular culture and religious Jewish people within a shared contemporary discourse. Rather than being seen as purely outside popular culture, religion can be understood as able to engage with through such intertextual communication in Internet memes. Memes allow religious groups to attach new meanings to cultural artifacts, and religious ideal practices can become tool for culture jamming in meme culture. These breaks the construction of the religious meta-narrative into fragmented, smaller understandings of religion that at the same time affirm the larger meta-narrative.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Religious Memes in Election 2012: Mitt Romney and the Mormon Faith

The memes which circulated during the 2012 presidential cycle took on a variety of different forms, especially when religious issues were considered. As the challenging candidate from a religious background unfamiliar to a number of people, Mitt Romney faced a significant challenge. As a Mormon candidate, Romney was tasked with making his religion understandable and reasonable to the public. However, as we will see in the analysis of memes that focused on his faith, it seems as though he did not familiarize the public with his beliefs sufficiently. This post will focus on three memes regarding Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith that were posted on three blogs. I will briefly discuss the content of the blog in which each meme was posted, and then review the reader comments (when applicable) in order to explicate how the blog readers attempted to shape the meaning of the memes as well as  the messages the audiences took from the memes. I will conclude by discussing how the way religion was treated in these memes was either effective or problematic. Understanding how these memes are used to communicate and/or interrogate religious belief in a political context will further our knowledge of how politics and religious beliefs intersect in meaningful ways.

The first meme was posted on June 24, 2012 to the blog, “a voice from the rustbelt” in a post entitled, “Appraising presidential candidates.” The author of the blog is a Catholic individual who, while not intending his blog as a religious or political forum, nonetheless acknowledges the importance of these two issues and includes them among the topics of his “essays.” The blog in which this meme appeared criticizes Romney for his Mormon faith, calling Mormonism “a fraud . . . secretive and deceptive” (Rustbelt, 2012). He further states that while “one cannot blame one for being born into a religion,” is is important to note that Catholic theology “is open, and fully academic, and viewable,”
while Mormon theology is n

The author then goes on to evaluate the critical thinking capacity of LDS members, who he argues, “are taught not to answer direct questions on their beliefs . . . Romney lies . . . with nonchalance” (Rustbelt, 2012: Appraising presidential candidates). He later goes on to describe Obama’s church attending record (at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago), but fails to provide any evaluation of Obama’s faith or veracity.

The meme featured in this blog post seems to underscore the notion that Mormon theology does not encourage critical thinking, using as a case-in-point the fact that Romney has defended marriage as between one man and one woman, but had a great-grandfather who was a polygamist. In this context, then, the meme is intended to underscore the idea that Romney must be a poor choice as a president because his religious upbringing discouraged critical thinking. This lack of critical thinking becomes even more problematic when we consider the author’s assertion that LDS theology is “highly secretive.” Being brought up in a secretive theology, in the author’s explanation, also leads to being secretive and deceptive, both qualities that it are undesirable in a president. While there are no comments posted to the blog, it is interesting to consider the way in which this meme was used to reinforce a discussion of Mitt Romney’s faith in a political context.

The second meme entitled, “Mitt Romney is a Mormon,” was posted on the “Atheist Revolution” blog in July 2012. The goal of the blog, according to the author, is “breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: About). The author, as the title of the blog implies, is an Atheist who blogs about political and religious issues in order to promote Atheist thought and activism.

This blog post focuses not on evaluating Romney’s faith, but rather to discuss the strategies employed by the GOP to deal with the fact that “roughly 18% of Americans polled say they would not vote for a Mormon candidate” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: Romney is a Mormon). The author then goes on to surmise that in places where Obama is extremely unpopular (such as Mississippi), Romney will likely win. The author wonders why it is that the media have not more thoroughly covered the fact that Romney is a Mormon and contrasts Romney’s faith with Atheism and Scientology. The author closes by predicting that, in the event that an Atheist or Scientologist ran for the presidency, “everyone would accept the need to inform the public” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: Mitt Romney is a Mormon).

The meme used included in the blog post, as shown above, seems to challenge the reasonableness of LDS theology. However, the content of the meme does not appear in the blog post, leaving the reader to his or her own interpretation of how the meme should be read. This blog post had eighteen comments, a number of which reflect on the nature of religious belief in the political sphere, while a few mock Mitt Romney’s faith. Interestingly, none of the responses interact with the content of the meme, suggesting that in this case the actual content of the blog is more meaningful to the readers than the pithy meme. For this meme, then, the interpretation remains open: neither the blogger nor the readers attempt to negotiate its meaning, instead preferring to discuss how the role of religion in politics could change in the future.

The final meme was posted in a blog from “Religious poisons” entitled, “This is what Mitt Romney believes” during June 2012. The goal of the blog is “to show how religion poisons the mind,” characterizing religion as harmful and unnecessary, and “a direct threat to the survival of humankind (Religious Poisons, 2013: About). The post is brief, stating:

This man is close to becoming the most powerful man on the planet. He is the
Republican Party’s main contender to challenge Obama for the presidency of the USA. He is a man of faith and an active follower of the church of mormonism. Among other things, mormons believe in Kolub. They also believe in magic underwear. Are you feeling safer now (Religion Poisons, 2012: This is what Mitt Romney believes)?

Clearly, the point of this blog entry is to mock Romney’s faith, essentializing it down to two issues (Kolob and sacred undergarments) in order to discredit Romney as a candidate. The meme here reinforces the author’s interpretation of Mormon faith as irrational, further referencing Mormon belief in “Kolub.”

This blog had a number of responses that included the topics of correcting the blog’s author, and discussing the racism in the church’s past. The first commenter (Eldoon Feeb) corrects the blogger’s spelling of Kolob, provides the correct definition of Kolob as a star rather than a planet, and brings up the significance of skin color to Mormon theology. This Feeb is then corrected by another commenter (Christian) who refutes the importance of skin color, citing information from the LDS website as support that race is no longer a factor in LDS theology. Another commenter, (RP) criticizes Christian’s use of “pick-n-mix” theology, and Feeb jumps back into the conversation, arguing that by Christian’s logic, the founders of the LDS church could not be considered disciples of Christ. The comment thread ends with Feeb’s critique.

In this blog, the author’s comments, combined with the blog, served as a jumping-off point for discussion LDS beliefs. While the blog author and meme essentialized the Mormon faith, the commenters (some who appeared to be Mormon, or at least very familiar with Mormonism), were quick to jump in and make sure that the Mormon faith was being represented correctly. The meme content was thus described as correct by the blog author, but reshaped by the commenters to provide a fuller understanding of Romney’s faith (although Romney was not mentioned at all in the comments).

The memes highlighted here reveal a few important things: first, the way that the religious meaning is negotiated in memes is highly contextual. The nature of the outlet in many ways determines the readership, thus affecting what type of people will interact with the meme. In the case of the first meme, there were no readers, leaving the meaning supplied by the author unchallenged. In the second meme, the audience chose to address a different issue than that referenced by the meme, subordinating its meaning to the larger claims of the blog author. In the final meme, a number of people with religious knowledge were among the readership of the blog and provided their understanding as a means of reshaping our understanding of Mormonism by using the incorrect information of the meme as point of departure for a larger discussion. Memes, then, can be both problematic or effective depending on the audience that they reach. If the meme demonstrates an incorrect or incomplete understanding of a particular religious perspective it becomes the task of the audience to enhance or reshape that understanding. Where the audience is well informed and robust, memes can serve as a catalyst for effective dialogue; where the audience is absent or ill-informed, the meme will serve to reinforce the meme’s necessarily reductionist view.

Reading Memes in an Internet Public: Christian Memes

I chose two seemingly simplistic memes in order to reflect on how they can communicate multiple and conflicting messages.


One might not think there could be many different readings of this meme given its nature of “playfulness” as described by Shifman (2011). Basically it is a word game for the users of Christian Memes to figure out. In this case, the word “John” both refers to the slang for “toilet” and for John, the disciple of Jesus. Thus, 1 John refers to the first “john” or toilet in the U.S., which is pictured, and also the book of the Bible believed to be written by John the disciple.
However, during this decoding process it becomes evident that people can construct their own meanings and share those meanings with others, thus creating “spreadable media,” (Jenkins, 2006) and generating shared knowledge.
For instance, some people found the meme offensive. Relating the word of God with a toilet was defiling. However, the community rallied around the meme and created different meanings about the nature of God. One user wrote, “oh dear, too funny, God does have a sense of humor ya’ll.” Another chimes in, “In case everybody didn’t know, Jesus had to use the restroom at times. Fully human, yet fully God.” We can see from these comments that they reject the notion that a play on words including a toilet is offensive and even reconcile it by reflecting on the nature of Jesus, as the son of God, being both human and divine.

Church Potlucks

This meme provides a way for users to reflect on the culture of the Christian church potluck. Some churches get together for a community meal, with individuals and families bringing their favorite dish to share. The meme reflects on the nature of the church potluck, and the religious practice of fellowship through the breaking of break, by showing a woman in a kayak paddling her way through mounds of potatoes.
What is interesting about the different messages associated with this meme is the way people interject their own potluck experiences. For instance, one user reflects on the difference in an international church: “Filipino churches does it x10 more food than American churches!” Another user relates it to the promised land for the Israelites: “Is this the Southern version of ‘The land flowing with mild and honey?’” This is interesting because it reflects on the fact that God takes care of his people by providing good food for them to share, such as He did with the Israelites.
Another user relates how he feels about potlucks: “How I feel at church potlucks: ‘Oh my gosh I don’t know what to do!!!! I can’t tell if that’s chicken or pork! Who knows what went into that macaroni...’ #IEatKosher. So this experience refers to the fact that the food is not always the best at potlucks and one may never know what they are about to put into their mouths. Another interesting aspect is the hashtag supplied at the end, “#IEatKosher.” Is this person Jewish and commenting on the Christian Meme site? Are they relating the way we eat back to Biblical times and saying Christians should eat kosher as well?

What the brief examination of these two memes reflects is that meaning making is a communal process for users on Christian Memes. Meanings are contested and defended even on what some may see as the most simplistic of memes. This underscores the layered nature of memes, not only in the images and texts used, but also in the decoding of meaning by different individuals.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reading Memes in an Internet Public: The Buddy Christ

My efforts to observe online discourse about the Buddy Christ meme took me down some unexpected virtual pathways. To my surprise, meaningful discourse about the Buddy Christ meme was not readily present and active on some of the most common forum-based social media sites, including Facebook and Reddit. On microblogging sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, images or hashtags of the Buddy Christ meme are often posted, but overt discussions about meme meanings are not common occurrences or of substantial length. Despite having no vibrant Facebook community for himself, the following Buddy Christ meme was posted on the Facebook page “Christian Memes” in 2012:

The comments section reveals an audience that takes no offense towards the meme or any of its suggestions about Christ as an authoritative religious figure. Instead, the audience either values the meme for its face-value humor (“Just let the funny do it’s thang, don’t fight it”) or interprets the meme as a reification of Christian beliefs (“Its true!! no matter who you are or what you’ve done, He loves you!!”). A second meme utilizing Buddy Christ as its figure was also posted on the “Christian Memes” Facebook page in 2012: 

This meme is a good representation of how meme meanings and usage may change as memes spread online. A non-traditional example of the Buddy Christ meme, the creator of this meme added a third layer of imagery to enhance the humorous impact of their message. Once again, the Facebook audience responded with appreciation for the humor of the meme (“this made me laugh!”) or by making contributions to the humorous message (“Jesus drives a Chrysler. Chrysler will be happy to hear this…”) but not commenting on the religious meanings of the meme.

Perhaps due to the assimilation of the Buddy Christ meme as a taken-for-granted social feature of the Internet by religious audiences, I discovered that a great deal of online discourse about the religious implications of the Buddy Christ meme has found its way onto individual full-length blogs on various blog hosting sites. These blog posts typically open with a variation of the meme at the top of the post and proceed to use the Buddy Christ as a sort of running example throughout the subsequent text of the post. It is on these blogs and in their comment sections that I observed the Buddy Christ meme becoming a reflexive tool for Christians to assert or challenge various theological positions. This is almost certainly a departure from the intended messages of early Buddy Christ meme creators. The rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Connecticut posted the following Buddy Christ meme on his personal blog just last week:

The rector’s post was essentially an expression of reflexive agreement with the critical intent of the meme. He suggested that despite its irreverent depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddy Christ meme actually carries with it the legitimate Christian meaning that Christians should embrace joy in their religious practice and demonstrate that joy to non-Christians. Members of the rector’s parish offered affirmation of the post in the comments section (“Amen!”). Other blogs and their audiences followed similar formats but came away with different reflexive meanings, including constructions of the Buddy Christ as a representation of both (a) the failure of Christians to appropriately revere the authority of Christ in practice and (b) perceptions of tensions between traditional Christian practice and popular culture.

A potential major takeaway for this case study is that as religious memes become assimilated into Internet culture, they may unintentionally become meaningful resources for reflexive discourse among religious audiences. Furthermore, reflexive meme discourse may move away from larger online forums and into smaller Internet settings that are targeted towards members of religious groups more likely to understand and embrace particularized reflexive meanings.

Muslim Memes Blogpost 3: The interpretive public

One key characteristic of memes is that they have the ability to circulate quickly throughout the Internet to many different audiences, especially though social media. What makes a Facebook page like Muslim Memes unique is that it has a very specific audience. The fact that the memes deal with Islam means that it may not be circulated as widely due to the amount of knowledge required to understand the punchlines of the memes. Other memes surveyed in this blog series which deal with Christianity may be circulated more widely especially in the West, regardless of whether the meme is critical or innocuous, because audiences are more literate in the Christian tradition.

Muslim memes appear to be circulated and viewed within networks of Muslims. As was observed in previous weeks' posts, the content of the memes in the Muslim Memes Facebook page deal with Muslim experiences in usually innocuous and humorous ways. All of the memes are posted by the admin of the page and are presumably submitted by users directly to the admin. While the intention of the original meme creator is difficult to know, the admin intend for the memes to be for amusement. The About section of the page offers a disclaimer that read, “THIS PAGE IS STRICTLY FOR AMUSEMENT AND NOT TO OFFEND ANYONE OR ANY RELIGION. The admin of Facebook page 'Muslim Memes' do not advocate, approve nor endorse any of these memese[sic] posted on this page.”

The audience of Muslim Memes usually appear to interpret the memes as innocuous and humorous. Many of the comments on the following meme were expressions of laughter, such as 'lmao' and 'looool'. A couple of comments were transliterated into English from another language (presumably Arabic) so I could not understand them. “Nikah” means marriage.

There is a bit of discussion regarding the intention of the second meme, in which Legolas from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy recites “There is no deity but Allah.” One user voiced his suspicion about the intention of the meme:

“I don't know what to say.. to me, this is like an insult . . . and all those muslims who liked this picture were all fooled.. I mean.. just look at it.. In a long time ago Elves were borned out from the fire of hell created by gods(which is not), came down to earth to bring chaos by lurking in the shadows of the forests around the world.. and if you say that this elf could be a muslim.. then you're stupid..”

Others respond to this initial concern by stating that the meme should be interpreted as a harmless joke:

“I don't think this page was created to mock the religion, but rather to have harmless fun about what silly things we do as Muslims.”

“This is clearly a harmless joke. Do not cloud your mind with useless superstitions. There is easily enough evidence to suggest that this page is only intended to support Muslims, not insult them.”

“oh geeeez have a sense of ha-ha!! or just click NEXT~”

The third meme has a picture of Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story films talking into a communicator, remarking about how there are no Muslims in the mosque the day after Ramadan. This meme may be taken as a friendly reminder to Muslims to be vigilant in religious rituals. Indeed, here the admin post a comment interpreting the meme this way: “Remember, just because Ramadan might be over does not mean you stop going to the masjid!” The comments were a mixture of solemn agreement (“sadly it's true,” “May Allah bless us all with the intention to be better Muslims.Ameeeeeeen,” “Sab[sic] but true. Hypocrits... Hypocrites everywhere”) and expressions of laughter.

The memes selected for analysis appear to be interpreted mostly as lighthearted humor. In the case of the Buzz Lightyear meme, users expressed agreement with the observations, though they did not interpret the meme as being critical of the religion as much as being an indictment of certain behaviors and admonitions to be better Muslims.

The interpretative community for Muslim memes is a narrower public than those whom view and interpret other religious memes. Overall, Muslim memes use parochial humor that members of the in-group would understand. Messages are interpreted mostly as humorous, in keeping in line with the goals of the admins of the Facebook page.

Finally, in addition to the expressions of laughter and discussion about the harmless nature of the jokes, many of the comments were simply links to other Facebook users' profiles. This tags the Facebook user in the comment so the person tagged is directed to the comment and the meme. Further development of the significance of sharing these memes cannot be expressed in this blogpost, but suffice to say that Muslims memes are readily shared among Facebook friends, presumably within a network of Muslims.

Reading Memes in an Internet public

The "Advice God" meme was not created for or by a certain group or religious community. As noted in the first week blog,  Advice God was first uploaded (user unknown) to Meme-generator in 2010. As a result, it is hard to find direct audience reactions to the meme. However, there are a few exceptions where public responses can be found:
1)     "Advice God" Facebookpage  (community) – This page was created around November 2010, but has been rarely active. The page creator (anonymous) shared only 4 posts, each a different meme from the "Advice God" meme series, and the comments are few or insignificant ("Yes!!", "This is my fav", etc). One interesting comment was posted on the wall of this page, in which a self-proclaimed Christian devotee asked that they "stop misrepresenting and mocking God". The only response to that was that she should buy herself some sense of humor.

2) and Ranker- Both these sites are not clearly community\social networking sites, but they are both built on the principles of participatory culture, where all user are both consumers and producers . In the page dedicated to the God Meme, the discussion section soon evolves into a theological debate. For example, in reactions to the meme "gives humans an appendix\for the lulz", some commenter noted that "Actually, as I enjoy pointing out to people, medical science has recently found out what the appendix is for.".
In Ranker, most of the reactions are heated arguments between atheists and believers. For example:

But some are gentler:

3)     Lastly, when the God Meme is used in specialized Atheist blogs, such as comments are fewer. Perhaps, because most blog followers agree with the meme's message. However, some followers voice their discontent, for example ( a reaction to a meme criticizing God for impregnating Mary, although she was already married, a comment reads: "Actually sge was unmarries, became pregnant and joseph, a much older man, married her to save her from being stoned to death... If you are going to insult christianity in the manner which yo do... Atleast double check your facts..."

Although the comments are few and diverse, two insights can be noted. First, it seems that the meme's message is clear. The Advice God format is very effective in communicating critical thoughts against God or religion. Some viewers experience it with humor, but others experience it as provoking anti-religious feelings. Which leads us to the second point – the reactions to the meme tend to be derogatory or straight out hate speech (see example 2 above) either against believers or against atheists.  This is not necessarily because of different readings of the same meme, rather the religious feelings the meme can provoke can lead to heated debates. 

Memes Consumers and Producers - The case of "Twitting Orthodoxies"

During the last few weeks, I have addressed the different aspects of the meme as a cultural text. This week, the blog post will revolve around the producers and the consumers of the text. In order to address this Issue, I will discuss two main themes:
1. The producer as consumer: It seems that the Internet provides a new layer to the classic model of communication (ENCODER – MESSAGE – DECODER), when the decoder of a message becomes an encoder of a new message, facilitated in a new context and directed to a new audience. 

The example of the Coca Cola meme demonstrates the complex nature of this process. The creator of this meme describes himself as “not Orthodox and not religious at all”. It was important for him to establish this fact, since the meme he created was not intentioned to be published on “Tweeting Orthodoxies” and “found its own way there alone”. It happens to be that the first comment regarding this meme in the new “facilitating hub” of Jewish religious jokes is a comment of the creator itself, now an audience member of his own meme. He wrote: “My grandfather would have been proud, he was a Rabbi.” Although the creator was aware of the religious aspect of his meme, he did not have a religious audience in mind when he created it. Most of the comments accompanying the meme reveal an amused audience, but some of them do emphasis the religious aspect of their interpretation process, addressing possible problems with the religious message: “It makes no sense to use the name Menachem-Mendel [one of the names on the bottles] as it is a Habad name and ‘habadnicim’ [people of this religious sector] do not drink this brand for its not Habad authorized”. We can see that in some cases, the audience’s understanding of religion was central to the interpretation of the meme. What the creator, and  the operators of this FB page thought to be funny was interpreted by a religious consumer with an emphasis on the religious aspect and not the humorous aspect.

2. The consumer as producer: The creator of the meme about Negiah described the process of creating the meme as “a reaction to another meme I saw, ridiculing religious Jewish people that practice this Halakhic custom”.
                                   people that high five without touching, you are “Awesome”, keep on going that way

 The producer of the meme is actually a consumer that took his decoding and meaning making process to a level of creating a well thought well produced reaction to the message, blurring even further the distinction between media producers and consumers. This blurred line facilitates a “lived religion” in which religious internet users can practice their offline religious interpretive framework in an online environment. The creation of religious memes helps the creators to include their religion in everyday activities that are perceived as secular – like using Facebook. 

                                                                                       Neo's Bar-mizva

The creator of the Matrix meme suggests that “this Facebook page and the memes make the Jewish religion less rigid. It enables us to experience religion as less threatening; as something we can actually laugh about”. Emphasizing the importance of responsivity in today’s media consumption process, he adds: “the way Facebook pages are built makes it easier to share and comment about memes, which makes the whole process of creating them and consuming them much more meaning full for the users”.