Monday, November 4, 2013

Christian Memes: Research Summary

Christian Memes is a Facebook page where users can submit and consume Christian internet memes. This case study used participant observation and online analysis to explore 13 religious memes collected from the site between August 30 and September 17, 2013.  It is important to look at this collection of memes because it provides insight into how Christians make sense of their everyday, lived religious lives (Ammerman, 2006) and how that sense-making process takes places within participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). One distinct attribute of participatory culture is that it allows for collective knowledge to emerge. This collective knowledge can be negotiated through multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings.
Findings include that the meaning making process surrounding internet memes is a communal one. 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 text used, but also in the decoding of meaning by different individuals. All memes contain layers of meaning and researchers must be cognizant of that fact throughout the research project. The image, text, context, and audiences’ collective knowledge – all contribute to the production and consumption of internet memes.Researchers need to attend not only to the meme itself, and the layers of text and image, but also to the audiences discussion about the meme as well as how they may take different layers and remix it into a new artifact.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Memes, Mormonism, and Mitt Romney - Final Synopsis

This collection of memes involved religious themes surrounding Mitt Romney’s faith and popular perceptions of Mormonism during the 2012 Presidential election. This study revealed two notable findings: first, religious memes are necessarily reductive in nature and second, memes at the intersection of faith and politics use humor to critique religion. Memes that featured Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs tended to be reductionist in nature, meaning that they essentialized Romney’s religious belief to its most simplistic terms. This created a caricature of Mormonism that its practitioners would neither recognize nor agree with. This was seen in all of the memes as both sacred items and aspects of LDS doctrine were mischaracterized or oversimplified. The truncated nature of the meme does not allow for development or discussion, rather offering a pithy or humorous caricature of Mormonism. This leads to a second issue, the use of humor for the purpose of critique.  All of the memes in this case study invoked humor by superiority, which features “people who are unintentionally, or at least not clearly intentionally, funny” (Shifman 2012, 196). Romney was cast as humorous through text highlighting decontextualized and seemingly ridiculous aspects of his faith. Another example showed Romney and Obama during the debate with the text, “Mitt Romney’s policies are like Joseph Smith’s golden plates; No one else has ever seen them and only stupid people buy that bull crap.” Disbelief in a key tenet of Mormon doctrine is expressed, illustrating how memes combining religion and political frames often simultaneously essentialized and critiqued using humor.

The above meme playfully captures the essence of Mitt Romney memes, which reduced complex religious discourse to simplistic concepts using humor.

The Buddy Christ: A Case Study Summary

Buddy Christ memes are inspired by the film Dogma (1999).  For this case study, examples of the Buddy Christ meme that expressly questioned or affirmed religious authority were selected for investigation.  The Buddy Christ meme case study revealed the importance of intertextuality in religious memes and how intertextuality can frame the communicative usage of religious memes online.  Buddy Christ memes juxtapose religious texts that assert authority with popular culture texts that question religious authority claims. Despite this contradictory message offered by the meme’s creators, seeming to undermine religious authority, memes about religion can also be framed to affirm the authority of religious leaders.  In this study, a religious leader’s choice to embrace the intertextuality of the Buddy Christ meme on a church blog generated reflexive discourse and an affirmation of religious authority.  Thus, this case study illustrates that religious memes can employ intertextuality that may either affirm or provoke religious authority, and represents a departure from traditional framings of religious authority online.

The Buddy Christ meme posted above was created specifically for this blog in order to illustrate the findings of this case study.  This meme exemplifies both the visual and intertextual characteristics of the body of Buddy Christ memes online.  Here, the colorful and parodic image of the Buddy Christ serves as the background, with a superimposed textual message.  Like many Buddy Christ memes, the text included here references biblical text – specifically, the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 14:6 – and modifies them in a way that does not acknowledge their original authoritative intent.  Moreover, this Buddy Christ meme acknowledges the intertextual and reflexive nature of the meme as a communicative unit by noting its usability in discursive contexts online, namely blogs.  This Buddy Christ meme is a newly generated and representative example of the memes investigated by this case study.