понедельник, 21 ноября 2016 г.

era of MeMes in Digital Culture
limor shifman. Memes in Digital Culture. the Mit
Press essential knowledge series. Cambridge: Mit
Press, 2013. 216 pp.
The most recent book by Limor Shifman, communication
researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is dedi-
cated to the ongoing processes in digital culture. The author
does not pose a question about what digital culture is. It is a
sphere of life, the expressions of which are disseminated by
way of digital media, i.e., computers, smartphones and com-
puter networks. The components of digital culture (texts,
pictures, videos, Internet language, behavioural practices
and their representations) are usually created by means of
relevant technology, or by intertwining digital and physical
acts. The sphere also requires the existence of pre-digital
materials on the Internet or other cloud repositories.
As strange as it seems to be, the reader can greatly bene업t from being unspoilt by
the “old” meme theory. Also, one should not expect the author to develop a folkloristic
meme theory. The reader is provided with a clear de업nition of which memes are dealt
with and what they are. If the analysis were a song, the meme de업nition would be the
refrain deserving repetition and remembering. Limor Shifman de업nes the Internet
meme as a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form and/or
stance, which were created with awareness of each other, and were circulated, imitated,
and/or transformed via the Internet by many users (pp. 7, 41).
The issue of continuity with the original formulation of the meme concept contributed
by Richard Dawkins, has instigated Henry Jenkins, a renowned theoretician of digital
culture, who, after Limor Shifman’s book had come out, published an interview with the
author on his blog (see http://henryjenkins.org/2014/02/a-meme-is-a-terrible-thing-to-
waste-an-interview-with-limor-shifman-part-one.html#sthash.doq7VMU2.dpuf). In the
interview he asks Shifman to comment on the changes in the use of the meme concept
in comparison to the 1970s. We learn that the focus is not on a single cultural unit
that has propagated well, but groups of content units; not self-replicating culture but
meaningful components of culture that are shaped and diffused by active human agents.
So, Shifman set herself an aim not to rede업ne the meme concept in its general sense,
but to suggest a de업nition for the emergent phenomenon of Internet memes. Internet
memes are user-generated concepts, which in digital culture denote products of an
ongoing creative process. Part of this process is certainly sharing, continuous forwarding
of memes, to which Limor Shifman devotes special attention in her book. In social media
memes appear especially quickly, in a continuous 쯋ow; yet, blogs and possibilities offered
by instant messaging protocols are not left aside either. Shifman regards as meaningful
Folklore 58           217Book reviews
the fact that those who process and forward the material circulating on the Internet
have adapted namely the meme concept: there is a fundamental compatibility between
the term ‘meme’ and the way contemporary participatory culture works. The mediated
content that passes along from person to person gradually scales into a shared social
phenomenon, cultural information. In her interview to Henry Jenkins, Shifman avows
that in this respect, Dawkins’s formulation and contemporary participatory culture
are in unison. Although the number of forwarders is much higher than that of those
who reproduce basic images and launch new memes (and there are even more of those
who just observe and rarely post), all individual participants are aware of what content
is processed with which methods. As examples of the latter, the author of the book
repeatedly mentions repackaging, imitation, remixing and mimicry – the main methods
that give birth to or make go viral the products and re쯋ections of the creative activity
of Internet users.
Shifman presents and characterises nine meme genres: both those in the case of
which the basic material and transformations proceed from the web, and those based on
real-life moments or presupposing participation in speci업c physical action (pp. 99–118).
Another aspect I would like to emphasise in the context of this book review is that
Shifman highlights and describes, besides the de업nition of the Internet meme, the
existing meme genres. In chapter 7, the author presents vivid examples of each of
them, which make the interested reader to google, in order to understand what is what.
Interactive reading is also possible if you, following Shifman’s well-elaborated logic,
travel through the vernacular web searching  additionally for  relevant keywords, watch
videos, read blogs and users’ discussions about their own activity at the sites where
Internet memes and viral phenomena are submitted by regular users (for example,
According to Shifman, the nine meme genres are as follows:
Reaction Photoshops / photo processing – digitally altered photographs as comments
on events and of업cial news;
Photo fads – photos and videos (one of the most well-known examples is “planking”);
Flash mob – a group of strangers gather in a public space and perform a particular
act simultaneously. After that they just leave the scene (the Baltic Chain – see http://

www.balticway.net/index.php?page=baltic-way&hl=en – has certain features of a
Vash mob). Advertisers/advertising agencies have detected the power of such actions
and organise Vash mobs for marketing purposes;
Lipsynch – videos in which a person or persons try to match their lip movements
to popular songs;
Misheard lyrics – funny mistranslation of spoken sounds or songs to written words;
usually added in the subtitles of an existing video clip;
Recut trailers – the re-editing or remixing of 업lm footage by the users;
LOLCats (lolspeak) – pictures of cats accompanied by systematically misspelled
captions, which refer to the situation shown in the photo;
Stock character macros – so-called ‘advice animals’ macros: animal picture macros
with absurd advice phrases as if uttered by a dog, penguin, wolf, frog, etc.;
Rage comics – featuring a set of expressive characters, each associated with a typical
behaviour or emotion.
218                          www.folklore.ee/folkloreBook reviews
The names of sub-genres that potential target groups use for indentifying the material
cannot well be translated into other languages. Even a cursory glimpse into the realisa-
tion and re쯋ection of meme genres, for example, on some Estonian websites, refers to
the unwillingness of the participants to coin local-language terms. Shifman in her book
(p. 155) also mentions that English operates as lingua franca on the Internet, yet also
points to the gradual diversi업cation in this sphere.
The issue of locality and/or globality in the spread of concrete memes is separately
discussed in chapter 9 (p. 151). It appears that memes can be signs of global message
forwarding, yet others spread also if translated into local languages. Photoshopped
memes based on the events and facts of the physical world do not necessarily evoke a
global response and go viral. It is interesting that series of verbal jokes translated into
local languages are disseminated, which characterise human predicaments by means
of computer technology (Shifman refers to this example). A concrete 쯋ash mob watcher
has no problem with adaptation: the video makes it possible to see anyone’s 쯋ash mob
performed in any form. Yet, in the case of a 쯋ash mob, sharing and initiation are es-
sential: in a most perfect case, this requires bodily action, so-called translation into
the language of an individual body. Typical characters of rage comics (Rage Guy, Poker
Face and Troll Face, see p. 116) seem to attract speci업c user groups, whereas the users’
non-digital locality is totally irrelevant. It is namely in the case of this meme genre
that Shifman warns, with a reference to Ryan Milner’s study, that digital literacy is not
enough in order to participate in the “rage discourse”, or, to put it in a simpler way, a
computer user with of업ce background should not even try. The rage comics community
watches, shares and creates memes by speci업c subcultural codes and norms, which
evolve within the community.
Besides, as Shifman admits, meme creation and forwarding logic feature in쯋uential
socio-psychological and subcultural factors. On the one hand, hypermemetic logic domi-
nates (p. 4, 22), releasing vernacular creativity (p. 97, 99), and this in turn sprouts a
stream of memes at almost every public event. On the other hand, memes often involve
meanings and ways of information processing from smaller user communities, which
cannot be understood by the wider public, not to mention those who are not active
Internet users.
The question of which earlier cultural practice or folkloric expression could be de-
scribed as an example of a seemingly new category contended by types of Internet memes
is rather inspiring. Limor Shifman’s book provides a smartly structured overview of
a vernacular creative process independent of the ways of of업cial information channel-
ling expressed in digital culture. Multilayered material 쯋ows abounding in information
and all kinds of allusions have been skilfully placed in an analytical focus. Memes in
Digital Culture provides material for contemplations both to the observers of Internet
phenomena and the researchers of folklore born directly in digital culture. I believe that
folklorists who are well acquainted with classical expressive genres can, by means of
our special language and knowledge, contribute substantially to the interpretation of
the novel cultural phenomena.