The Negative Side of Memes

I’ve seen a few posts on the blog about internet memes as a form of electronic literature.  Since memes are someone expressing a thought or idea through words and pictures electronically, it is technically a form of electronic literature.  According to the wikipedia page, a meme is an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.  In the case of Internet memes, that “culture” is the entire world wide web.  That’s a lot of people.  Bear that in mind as I begin my argument.

There are dozens of websites in which any internet user can find a template to make their own memes (memegenerator.net, memebase.com, and quickmeme.com just to name a few).  The memes made on these websites have been popularized by websites such as reddit.com, 4chan.org and 9gag.com.

Unfortunately, the most popular of these memes usually tend to be racist or sexist.  For example, let’s take a look at “High Expectations Asian Father”:

“High Expectations Asian Father” is typically depicted as a stern man that demands nothing less than perfection from those around him (usually his kids).  Although it isn’t terribly offensive or defamatory towards the Asian race, the meme still enforces a racial stereotype that Asians are less tolerant to failure than other races.

There are other memes that use racial or religious stereotypes in the “bait and switch” method.  A couple examples would be “Successful Black Man” and “Ordinary Muslim Man”

    

In the case of “Successful Black Man,” the meme’s setup line usually begins as a black racial stereotype about being poor, violent, crime/drug users or promiscuous.  Then in the punch line, the sentence is continued and your perception of what you thought was going to happen is flipped 180 degrees. The same technique is used with “Ordinary Muslim Man” except he is first perceived as a terrorist and then, once the punchline is delivered, turns out to be a normal guy.  These memes exploit and play into stereotypes of certain groups of people.

Still, other memes like “Redneck Randall,” who pokes fun at the American South, and “Good Girl Gina” (who has recently been removed due to copyright infringement), who has a misogynistic tone in which her sole purpose in life is to please men sexually, manage to offend nearly any group of people imaginable.

Popular socially interactive websites like reddit.com, which has over 6 million users worldwide, are what make these memes so popular.  The consensus seems to be that it’s okay to poke fun at a certain group of people because memes are just a “joke.”  But the truth is as long as we keep recognizing these stereotypes, they will always be there.  There’s no doubt that Americans (as well as much of the rest of the world) have come a long way in understanding and accepting different cultures and races, but I think it’s time we bury some of these stereotypes and stick to the good, clean, fun memes like “Success Kid” or “First World Problems.”

  4 comments for “The Negative Side of Memes

  1. Wick
    March 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Hello, Kevin! I’ve been very interested in the relevancies of memes for a long time, and so I’ve asked myself many of the same questions before that you’re posing here.

    The way I reconcile the use of stereotypes in memes isn’t that they’re perpetuating negative stereotypes by exalting it them, but rather drawing attention to the problematic nature of stereotypes in general by poking fun at the absurdities and over-generalizations they encourage people to make. Successful Black Man is my favorite example of this argument, as the only reason Successful Black Man is funny at all is because it banks on the fact that the reader *will not agree* with the red herring in the first line. The same thing holds true with Ordinary Muslim Man.

    I do, however, still have some misgivings about the memes that relate to gender (Cool Chick Carol in particular, especially in relation to Good Guy Greg), simply because I feel that gender is a slightly more complicated… topic than race is. But perhaps that’s misguided. I’m not sure. But I’d be very interested in reading some more critical analysis in regard to both.

  2. Kristjen Kjems
    March 19, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Are the creators of these seemingly racist/sexist/etc. memes poking fun or making a statement about profiling/stereotypes? Interesting question to think about.

  3. George Bowles
    March 21, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I just discovered Memes recently and I have found them to be hilarious and a good way to waste a relatively small amount of time on the internet. I do not think Memes should be considered offensive, considering the fact that they have Memes for almost any type of Race/Religion/Personality. Puling out the black and muslim memes seems a bit misleading, especially because there are much more popular ones out there. Obviously they are playing off of stereo types but no more than you would see in any other media outlet (I’m sure you’ve seen The Office). I think singling out Memes seems a bit naive, and telling some one take out their work is censorship. They are just meant to be funny and light hearted, most of the people that actually look these things are just trying to kill time and get a cheap laugh.

    • Nakia
      August 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      This is kind of old but a great article.

      If you think that memes are not offensive, you have the right to that opinion. While there are many popular memes out there that are not offensive, there are still many that are. Given the fact that many who create memes are children/teens/young adults, it seems that because of their lack of life experience or just plain ignorance, a meme can destroy someoneʻs spirit.

      The author of this article presents the negative side of memes. Iʻm sure the author understands that many memes are funny and light hearted.

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