THE CULTURAL LOGIC OF PHOTO-BASED MEME GENRES

Limor Shifman

Abstract


As bottom-up vernacular creations, internet memes may potentially assume an endless array of forms. In reality, however, memes tend to follow specific formulas, or genres. In this paper, I explore the cultural logic underpinning a particular set of meme genres: those that are based on photographs. The main question that I address focuses on cultural continuity: how do contemporary meme genres relate to previous photographic genres? I examine the multifaceted relations between three prominent meme genres (reaction Photoshops, stock character macros, and photo fads) and the genres that I see as their predecessors: iconic photos, stock photography, and vernacular photography. I show how, in each of these cases, meme genres subvert fundamental assumptions and practices associated with well-established photographic types. Based on patterns common to all three dyads, I suggest two novel framings of photo-based meme genres, highlighting their functions as modes of hypersignification and as future- oriented photography.


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