Attention Conservation Notice: Memes are a thing (!) and we have to understand them and their market to understand the NPR commenter’s comments about racism and classism that I snarked about yesterday, and that my comments are a distraction from the focus on racism, and thus, contribute to racism. After trying to understand memes and the meme market, I find out that the NPR writer runs a site that explains this stuff in full sentences, which is the only way I am going to be able to understand any of it.
So my rant yesterday about the focus on Charles Ramsey’s alien-ness in an NPR blog post prompted my brilliant students and fellow educators to point out, mostly via Fboo, that I am full of crap, missing the point and distracting us from the more important issue about the racism embodied into what happens to the images of Charles Ramsey via meme-ification (this is a word!) and the memed Charles Ramsey will be used as entertainment, and that how in this market, images of black men and women trade on demands of racist and classist majority culture–like other parts of the entertainment market.
It’s this last part–the media and entertainment market surrounding memes–that I have completely missed. Sure, I’ve seen memes on Facebook, but I didn’t know that people pay attention to them because I don’t. Really? This is a thing? I have always understood the marketability of Onion Joe Biden or Onion Ray LaHood…but people actually listen to AutoTunes of stuff? On purpose? (To which everybody who isn’t me says, “YAH DUH”. To which I say: hey. I barely know who Justin Bieber is. I only recently learned what My Humps is, and who Honey Boo Boo is. And I was not happy learning any of it and vowed to avoid learning any more if I could. I don’t follow links on the Internet willy nilly because otherwise how do you ever finish reading anything ever?)
Then my students referred me to Reddit and told me I needed to go there to learn what the Things are and so I did and….
…..WHOA. WHAT THE..?
I can’t do this. Can not.
But when smart people tell me I am being stupid and racist, I believe them, and I try to go out and learn stuff to help me get less stupid and racist, short of becoming more entangled with the Interwebs. I’m getting up there, kids, and I’ve only got so many years of reading ahead of me.
Less terrifying than the looming time suck of Reddit, I was referred material from UCLA’s Frank Gilliam, Dean of my beloved Luskin School (and a political scientist) problematizing the Antoine Dodson meme (which I missed entirely when it went around), and to knowyourmemes.com about Antoine Dodson.
I unfortunately could not find Frank Gilliam’s material archived (please send if you have it), and I read through knowyourmemes….but I still don’t really understand them, other than to note the only really high-profile ones that appear to have gotten my attention are GrumpyCat and TextsFromHillary (this latter of which shut down right at the point where it would seem that they could have cashed in.) The rest, I have to admit, I don’t remotely understand–I went through entries on College Republicans and College Liberals, Catholic memes, atheist memes, memes about atheists, Socially Awkward Penguins memes, memes about various policy positions (which I do see on Fbook, to my utter confusion; not having a gun makes you a victim?) Overly Attached Girlfriends, Frogs, Sad Bears, Sudden Clarity Clarence, Confession Kid, a mallard duck that dispenses advice of dubious worth, Scumbag CEOs with inexplicable hats–and! Successful Black Man.
I have to admit, I don’t understand most of them. What could POSSIBLY be entertaining about what Antoine Dodson and his sister went through?
But the routinization of violence towards African Americans in general and black women, in particular, that’s there.
I gave up on memes once I (finally) figured out that the money that gets made here comes through advertising (I know, duh), and that the Meme-stars themselves can trade on their celebrity as well, but that it is not necessarily the case until these folks start managing their celebrity strategically, a lot like reality tv. (I think).
But I did finally went out to find more writing by the original NPR blogger, Gene Demby. Jackpot–I should have started there. He has some good analysis on Huffington about politics more generally, but his own website specializes in image culture and entertainment. A look at PostBourgie.com, the website that I believe Demby founded, rather indicates one reason why I so missed his point in my rant yesterday: Demby is starting waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of me with understanding these media markets and images of black people that are produced and consumed in them.
And this site uses FULL SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS. Thank the lord.
The website is an ensemble set of writers, all of whom appear to be excellent. Some posts that I learned from:
Not saying Quvenzhané’s name is an attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to step around and contain her blackness. Yes, sometimes black people have names that are difficult to pronounce. There aren’t many people of European descent named Shaniqua or Jamal. Names are as big a cultural marker as brown skin and kinky hair, and there’s long been backlash against both of those things (see: perms, skin bleaching creams, etc.). The insistence on not using Quvenzhané’s name is an extension of that “why aren’t you white?” backlash.
There’s a large contingent of folks who think that Negroes in our nation’s many hoods don’t take violence seriously, that it’s something that folks shrug off or ignore. I can’t believe this even bears saying aloud, but no one considers the possibility of violence more than the people for whom violence is a quotidian reality; they think about that shit all the time. This is not some abstraction to them. The decision not to talk to the cops isn’t cosigning grisliness, it’s about simple self-preservation. There are all those teenagers who wear t-shirts emblazoned with the faces of their slain friends, all those makeshift shrines at streetlight posts with stuffed animals that read “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
More than that, I wonder what those sponsors would think if they were transported back to Grosse Pointe, on March 12, 1968, to hear King deliver his “Other America” speech, including the line, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” I suspect they wouldn’t recognize that Dr. King. I wonder how many of us would.