BEING A DENIZEN OF FACEBOOK WORLD—especially as an escape from the writing of the posts required for three blog and working on a first novel (finally!)—I run across countless images where someone has taken a photo and overlaid text. Most of these images seem to be either humorous or political, and often both. I call these images jaypeg posters, but they’re more commonly called Internet or Facebook memes. 1
I am uncomfortable calling them memes, but I’m definitely in the minority and so might as well capitulate to the masses now as later. An why am I uncomfortable?
“A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.
Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to the selective pressures that cause cells and organisms to mutate and evolve.” 2
The word meme was coined as a concept for the discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena through melodies, catch-phrases, and fashion.
I first read about the concept of the meme (and it is pronounced meem) in the context of computer data and intelligence, but it has passed into popular use as a reference to widely distributed poster-like images on the Internet—especially on social media sites like Facebook.
I haven’t a clue as to what the most widely distributed memes on Facebook are nor do I care. I know that cats are used in many memes and sports, so I found two here that I respond to. Both have made the rounds for years and have probably be seen by millions of people …
Great image: this photo of a cat almost demands that we anthropomorphize and read distaste and truculence and an adamant attitude about something into it. The image’s creator saw a curmudgeon almost proud of her surly attitude because, well, she knows she’s right, damn it!
Baseball fans tire of hearing non-fans express their ignorance through the tired observation that “it’s boring”—that “nothing ever happens.” This meme’s creator took a kindly if condescending attitude to the game’s naysayers with a smart, attractive image and an effective use of typography. 3
Combinations of photo and text
Of course, combinations of photo and text have been used in commercial advertising for almost a hundred years. I first became aware of a related type of photo manipulation with Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine. Published in the early ’60s as a rival to Mad Magazine—for whom Kurtzman had been the original editor and writer and all-around inspiration in the early ’50s—these comic-book-like stories using a black and white photo with comic book caption balloons were known as fumetti.
I had assumed that these memes were laboriously created by people at home using Photoshop or GIMP. I had no real interest in devoting time and energy to such a project. Someone alerted me to the fact that there are websites that allow anyone to create a meme within minutes! I used IMG Flips’ Meme Generator, which they bill as “the fastest meme generator on the planet.”
It took a few minutes to figure it out and a few minutes to produce my first meme. The most difficult part of the operation is choosing the sizes of the images and experimenting with how they look on Facebook.
The third meme that I created was the first that I posted and it was political (of course). My second meme was also the second that I posted and it was aimed squarely at record collectors. I found an appropriate image of Little Richard’s first album (Specialty SP-100, 1957) and added the text: all caps on top, upper and lowercase on the bottom. This was my first rock & roll meme but it’s text was lifted from the first meme that I had created but not yet used …
My first Facebook meme was also my first Elvis meme (naturally) and I went with this great shot. Elvis was so damned fit and handsome for his return to live performance in Las Vegas during July and August 1969. There were many photos taken during his press conference at the International Hotel (August 1), where he looked like something out of a Jane Austen novel with the high stiff collar and the red scarf.
My initial idea was a picture of Elvis serenading the basset hound on the Steve Allen television show in July 1956. Then I thought I’d go with something in color and a little later. From 1967 through 1970, he went through several ‘looks,’ trying to find himself in attire suitably his and of the period.
From 1971 through the rest of his life, photos of Elvis on stage were less dynamic and therefore less interesting to me. Also, 1971 more or less marks the beginning of the era once deprecatingly referred to as the “Jumpsuit Years,” a term now embraced by many fans. Decades later, I remain inured to those images …
FEATURED IMAGE: There are many photos from the press conference held at the International Hotel on August 1, 1969, but few of the color photos were large enough to be used for this article’s header image. No problem, as I find the black & white photos of Mr Presley usually make for more arresting headers for anyway. Like this one!
1 My recent conversion to Dunning-Krugerism has made dealing with the denser denizens of that world easier and more manageable and enjoyable. But that’s another story for another time (and another blog site).
2 The word meme is a shortening of mimeme from Ancient Greek and means “imitated thing” or “to imitate.” It was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches. (Wikipedia)
3 When I launched my first web/blogsite Neal Umphred Dot Com, I intended to write a bit more about baseball but have not been as excited about the sport as I had thought I would be. I find that I remain peeved that the players and owners allowed the Steroid Era to occur; the extraordinary achievements of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are forever tainted for me. That and the lackluster performance of my two faverave teams, the Phillies and the Mariners have left me unmotivated …