u/s_as_(me)mes | Alex Westcott

u/s_as_(me)mes

This project further explores how we use written and visual rhetoric to articulate and perpetuate cultural identity within the context of a digital age. 

Introduction

To me as a communication designer but also as a person existing in the world, language is interesting. It’s at the heart of everything that we say, do, behave, think, perceive or interpretit’s important. Languageboth written and visualis inherently meaningful, and can be both influential and powerful. This project further explores how we use written and visual rhetoric to articulate and perpetuate cultural identity within the context of a digital age.

What's a Meme?

A meme is a unit of cultural information that can take the form of an idea, behaviour, or
phrase that is replicated and transmitted from one person to another through use of rhetoric.

What's rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speaking or writing and can be used as a tool to investigate the ways in which visual or written language is used to form identity.

Why am I doing this?

During a deeper investigation of communication and language within the conditions of digital Western society, the meme as a mode of communicating cultural information came up in casual conversation with a studio mate. The meme came into the discussion jokingly, but eventually became the focus of this project. It has been said that culture can be reconstituted through language by means of communication, perpetuation and transmission, and the meme seemed a compelling, current example of that idea in action. 

The research began with drawing upon the potential parallels between the Internet meme, politics, propaganda, and pedagogy and the roles they play in mobilizing cultural information. While memes can be light and funny and enjoyable, there is substantial precedence to suggest that they are far more than that. They are rhetorical and cultural texts that can have problematic social or political implications, and we should take them more seriously.

All internet memes have several distinguishing features, regardless of their format...

Feature one

The first is distinct recognizability. The transmission of memes online is of a higher quality and accuracy in its derision because digitization enables lossless transfers of information.

Feature two

The second is longevity which refers to the reality that information can be stored indefinitely in numerous archives in digital space. So a meme once put online will be transmitted between users in high fidelity, quickly circulated in other places on the Internet but not at your discretion: when you delete the original, it’s never really gone.

Feature three

The third is replicability. The number of memetic derivatives made within a unit of time is increased because the Internet facilitates effortless and speedy diffusion of content.

TECHNOLOGY & THE DIGITAL REALM OF THE INTERNET

Memes have become a large part of cultural discourse. 

Based on the meme’s original, pre-internet definition as being an agent of cultural transmission and unit of cultural inheritance, it could have been almost anything. In the early 70s a meme was a book, or a song, or something like religion and legal policy. Not pictures of cats saying things.

Scholars in the field of communication considered memes largely irrelevant prior to the 21st century. Now that 59% of the global population actively uses the internet, the investigation of internet memes and their capabilities is becoming even more important.

DECIDING TO MAKE A BOOK

The form, why?

Throughout the process of this project, questioning the motivation behind making a book over perhaps another more digital form confronted me regularly by peers, mentors or savy outsiders—this was valuable feedback, especially given the subject matter of my work and it was taken into consideration on more than one occasion this year. So, why I’ve addressed the problem space in this way is a valid question.

In the simplest way possible, I decided to make a book because often the online world (which is very real) feels ever-changing, intangible and fleeting. This book contrasts the way we use written and visual rhetoric to articulate and perpetuate cultural identity or information in a digital age by existing in a physical form that is, only what it is. Chronicled in the form of a timeline, this book archives some of the ways that memes, from their “origin” in 1976 to January of 2020, have propagated or circulated themes of racism, sexism, homophobia, stereotyping and othering. Us As Memes documents some of the most long-standing and defining issues of human life since the very first differentiation of “us” and “them”.

Thanks for taking a look. :)

If you'd like to see my process work, or a digital copy of Us As Memes, as it has yet to be printed, please get in touch.