Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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.

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