On the Mystery of Memes

We had to deal with is likely a “sign of the times” as our youngest son moves from adolescence into teenager (we still have six months!), and he learns more about the reach of media. I won’t share the whole story but it has to do with him sending an email blast to a bunch of friend and teachers with an image he thought was cute and funny.

It wasn’t.

It was an image of Pepe the frog. Which, if you followed the election and the emergence of the so-called Alt-Right, you will know that the image of Pepe has been, let’s say, taken over by the extreme right wing for racist insults. A frog is not just a frog on the Interwebz anymore. Pepe is a cartoon from the days of MySpace comic, and artist Matt Furie is trying to reclaim his image. Good luck with that.

To be fair, my son only shared an image of Pepe and not any of the nasty, dangerous memes. He was clueless about the back story of Pepe until I saw what he had done and sat down, and we had a conversation about the hidden meanings of many memes. Many times, the harsh meaning of memes is disguised behind a cute image. I had printed out an article about how the Anti-Defamation League had declared Pepe a “hate symbol” after the election, and showed him a blurb in Time Magazine about it.

This, from the ADL:

Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like moustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter.

“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”

My son was taken aback, as he should have been, and then proceeded to write out apology notes for two of his teachers that he shared it with over email (we also had a longer talk about careful and considerate use of email and sharing  media with people), explaining his ignorance of the hidden meaning and stating that he is not a racist or right-wing fanatic.

Of course, they know that, but it was the act of apology that made the action right to do (and it turns out, one of his teachers was completely ignorant of Pepe, too.)

One resource that is valuable for us, as adults, and perhaps for kids, too, is Know Your Meme — a vast database of information about the histories of memes and the current usage of them. We all might want to spend some more time and thought on what we are sending before we send them out into the world.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me

memecat stays positive

From time to time, I pull out my guitar and record a “corner concert” in my house. Nothing fancy. Just me and a song. Given all the noise about politics, to which I am very much attuned, I pulled out this song that I wrote, Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me.

While the politicians sleep
We’ll occupy the streets
Woody Guthrie lives inside of me

Thanks for watching and listening and being engaged in this crazy political season.

That man

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

Reflecting on a Week of Meme-Making

So you wanna make a meme
What a meme-filled week we had at the Making Learning Connected MOOC! And what a range of discussions that our meme-making inspired, particularly around the concepts of cultural currency, who gets left out of the conversations, the concept of privilege, what constitutes a meme, and more.

There are still plenty of folks in the CLMOOC who are scratching their heads about all of this meme business, but that’s OK — it might be one of those topics that takes time to simmer and stew before understanding comes around. There does not have go be instant understanding when it comes to the topics in the CLMOOC.

You are so meme

I’d like to share out a few pieces that went beyond the making of memes, as I think they showcase the flavor of the discussions. Of course, you are invited to join us at any time, too.

  • Rebecca Powell started a thread of discussion in our Google Plus space about privilege and memes, and the result was a far-ranging talk of a handful of us on the theme. I like this post because it shows us questioning, pushing back at our thinking, and sharing ideas in a positive way. We don’t really come to any conclusions but, personally, I am thinking of memes in a different light right now. Thanks, Rebecca!
  • Shyam Sharma and Maha Bali collaborated on a very deep piece for EdConteXts about their work on memes in the CLMOOC, bringing together blog posts that both of them wrote during the week about cultural connections to meme sharing and meme making, and how without those cultural touchpoints, they felt left out of the conversations. This reflective stance is so important, for not only do we not want people in the CLMOOC feeling on the outside looking in, we also do not want our students to feel that way. I love how Shyam and Maha end their piece, with a call for all of us to “open our ears and eyes and hearts if we want to truly take advantage of the web of people and ideas as educators.”
  • Chris Campbell’s extension of memes into cinema and videos, and remix, is the perfect leap from one form of media (still image) to another, and I love how he shows as well as shares his ideas in his blog post. Chris’s piece sparked some great conversation within the MOOC itself. One thread of those converations had to do with sampling of music and repositioning melodies of old into songs of the new (I am stretching the topic a bit here but it is something I think about when I listen to HipHop). Music as meme? Of course!

At point during the Make Cycle, I grabbed as many of the memes that I could, and put them into an Animoto video. At that point, there were about 125 memes, and many more flowed in after the video was finished. I shared the video in our spaces and asked the questions:

  • What do we notice about the memes when pulled together as a collection?
  • What does the collection say about us as a community?

I didn’t get much response — that’s OK — but I have been thinking about it, and here is what comes to mind as I watch the video again with my questions in mind.

  • While Peter Kittle and crew did use the World Cup biting incident to spur on some modern memes, most of this collection either referenced cultural events from years past or no cultural events at all. However, someone did note that a potential lesson for students would be to take a current event, synthesize it down into a meme, and post it to a public space — which sounds intriguing;
  • Most of the reference points were American-centered in nature and do not reflect a world-view;
  • We used a lot of the meme-generator sites instead of making our own memes with our own images, probably out of ease but when you do that, you lose agency as a maker;
  • There were fewer LOL cats than I would have thought, which might reflect a generational pull of our crew. Or maybe, we are just tired of the cats. Dogs, anyone?;
  • Playing with language — syntax, purposeful errors, spelling — was relatively rare. Again, this might reflect our community of mostly teachers whose natural impulse is to not write/publish ungrammatical work, even memes that situate such errors as part of the construction of the composition (I know I feel that tension when I try to write that way intentionally);
  • You can see lots of people experimenting with what a meme is, and if you scroll through the conversations, there is still a lot of wondering about what makes a meme a meme, and ” Did I do this right?” Thus, some of our projects work as memes, and some are just artful statements on life (Is there a difference? I think so, but maybe I am wrong. This continues to be a rich source of discussion);
  • I wondered if any of our memes would go viral, beyond the CLMOOC. Not as far as I can see, but a movement to gather up a collection of political memes that take a poke at the Education Reform/Testing Industry could have legs in educational circles, if we can get our act together to make that happen.

mo money meme
(Remix your own version of this meme)

What do you think? Check out the Meme Game (which Terry Elliott shared with us) and see how many you recognize and if you recognize the context. I was solid on a few, had some inklings on some others and was clueless on the rest. Interesting …

Peace (in the viral world),
Kevin

 

Find Your Muse: Making an Animated Meme

I’ve tinkered with animated GIFs before (most notably, with DS106) and when I saw a fellow traveler in the Making Learning Connected MOOC world sharing an animated GIF meme, I thought: I gotta try that.

So, I did. Here’s how I went about it.

First, I found a clip on YouTube that I liked (of Lisa Simpson playing her saxophone).

Then, I grabbed the url of that video and went into a site called Make a Gif, which does what it sounds like it does: it creates animated GIF files out of YouTube videos. I took just the first three seconds of the video, as the loop of Lisa playing while Homer kicks back and dreams of other things while Lisa kicks out her saxophone jams.

Then, I went into an online photo editor called EZGif, which allows you to layer in text on top of animated GIF files.

I’ve run into problems hosting animated GIF files before and I have found that if I use Flickr and grab the “original” image (not the embed code that Flickr gives you, as that will flatten the GIF down to a static image) via copy/paste, and place that original upload file directly into my blog post, it will remain animated.

The result?

 

Pretty nifty, eh? Go give it a try and share out what you made as part of this Make Cycle around memes. We’re moving to shift gears out of this Make Cycle but it never really ends. You can enter into the conversation with the CLMOOC whenever you arrive.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

When the Meme Turns Serious

My Students ... meme
Someone in the Making Learning Connected MOOC community posted a pretty serious-themed meme yesterday, as part of our work around understanding memes as cultural currency. I was struck by the realization that I seem to always go for the funny bone when I make and read memes, and yet, there is something about a meme that can be strikingly serious, too, if done right.

I decided to put aside the humor for a bit and try my hand at a serious meme, which is more difficult for me than I would have thought. Serious means that I had to resist the urge to be flip and/or sarcastic, which is the heart of how I view memes. I had a small amount of writing space and the image had to tell much of the story, if the meme were to be effective.

In addition, I wanted to move away from using the meme generator sites, which offer limited choices and pull you into their system, leaving very little agency. Instead, I wanted to create the meme, all on my own, with my own image and my own text, and my own choices, with no branding on the final meme.

I don’t know if I succeeded or not in my serious meme angle, but I can’t shake the feeling of how big business is really impacting our educational system, and the sense that it is more the bottom-line of those companies than the needs of our students that is driving much of the educational reform movement. I know I am probably preaching to the choir, if you read this blog, but it still is something that sits in the back of my mind (particularly as our district is spending gobs of money on a new math curriculum by a company whose name and presence is all over the testing industry these days. It begins with a “P.” You know what I am talking about, I am sure).

So, this meme (shared above) seeks to stake out some protective ground, establishing as best as I can a philosophical wall between the business interests outside my classroom door and the students who are inside my space each and every day of the school year.

This is how I made this meme:

  • I went into my Flickr files/archives to find a picture of a student at work. This one is from a National Day on Writing event a few years ago where my students were podcasting and publishing some of their writing;
  • I used the Aviary editing tool within Flickr itself (although I had a hard time finding the Aviary link, as Flickr made some design changes to its tools in the last few days);
  • I layered in text and added a border to the original image, and tried to find a text font that seemed “meme-like” that would stand out on top of the image;
  • I struggled with the wording, and how to concisely say what I wanted to say. I knew I wanted the large font on top to say “my students” in some vein, and the “not a cog in the wheel” kept gnawing at me. I ended up with “My student writers are not cogs in your business model” with the purposeful use of “you” to direct the meme at educational businesses (as if they care);
  • I reposted the image, now a meme, to Flickr for sharing.

Peace (in the message),
Kevin

PS — if you want to use my image to create your own meme, feel free to do so. The image is linked here on Flickr or you can grab it from this post.

DayonWriting1

 

Deconstructing the Cowbell (A Meme Exploration)

CLMOOC cowbell

Raise your hand if you know the reference to this meme? As part of our exploration of memes as cultural currency with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, I decided to use this particular meme and deconstruct it a bit. And I decided to do it in comic form.

Deconstructing_a_Meme

Check out how Google Trends followed the “more cowbell” concept over time:

And also, where the phrase has cache, globally (almost entirely in the United States):

If you want to know more about memes, then you should check out the site — Know your Meme — which provides context for original references and tracks the history of particular memes. Plus, it’s a fascinating history lesson into the digital age of popular culture references, for good and for bad (many memes have racist or mean origins.)

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of variations of this meme at this one site. You can see all sorts of references to businesses, inside jokes, friends and more.
cowbell memes

Over at Meme Generator, you can even set up a Meme Generator, so if you truly want more cowbell, then go make a meme!

clmooc fever

Peace (in the meme),
Kevin

Making a Mess with Memes

Clmooc meme
So, we’re going to have some fun this week with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, with Make Cycle 2’s theme on the topic of “memes.” You can read the newsletter that gives the context for memes and cultural humor, and more, and then we invite you to dive into making memes yourself.

Clmooc meme

I make a lot of memes, as regular visitors here know, but I want to try to dive in a bit deeper this week, and learn more about the ins and outs of how memes connect to popular culture, and how some memes become a secret language of sorts for young people. This is a good overview by Peter Kittle, one of the Make Cycle leaders this week.

Meanwhile, make your own memes, and share them out with the CLMOOC community.

Peace (in the meme),
Kevin