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.”