meme

I’m tentatively including memes under the modes and genres of creative appropriation because I adopt Limor Shifman’s definition of a meme in her very lucid and penetrating book, Memes in Digital Culture (2013).

Shifman proposes that we use the term viral for ” a single cultural unit (such as a video, photo, or joke) that propagates in many copies” – for example, the original music video of “Gangnam Style” (2012).

Memes, on the other hand, are derivatives of virals that propagate across the Internet, building or playing off on the same motif – for instance, the parodies, variations, and take-offs on “Gangnam Style.” Thus, “Gangnam Style” as a meme is not the original video, but the motif or “trope” of “Gangnam Style” in its mutated life in other contexts, “Gangnam Style” appropriated and remixed.

As Shifman conceives of them, virals are often glossy professional creations that ordinary web citizens would find it difficult to create or remix themselves. Memes, on the other hand, tend to have certain features that make them easier to appropriate for people with limited skills or resources. They are often simple, repetitive, and easily remixable.

One way of thinking about the distinction between virals and memes that Shifman suggests is that virals are items that people are motivated to share (without modification), whereas memes are items that people are motivated to engage with creatively.