The Culture Digitally Festival of Memeology: An Introduction

The collection of essays set to roll out on Culture Digitally over the next month began its life as a pair of panels spanning the last two annual meetings of the International Communication Association. At the 2014 meetings in Seattle, Washington and the 2015 meetings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, various configurations of the contributors in this collection met to discuss the cultures and communicative practices associated with internet memes and viral media. Our shared goal was to bring smart people together to start to think about these digital media genres—still emerging only a few years ago and now seemingly ubiquitous—above the level of the individual example. Together, we asked questions about how internet memes and viral media might be defined, their roles in popular culture, their relationships to far older scientific and scholarly traditions, and their public implications. Two years and two discussions that ended too quickly later, we decided to write up some of our key arguments from the panels. We’ve compiled these write-ups here, in what we’ve taken to calling “The Culture Digitally Festival of Memeology.”

By way of quick definition, “memes” typically refer to media texts (or “rules” for making texts—think joke formats) collectively created, circulated, and transformed by cultural participants, while “virality” typically labels a process of accelerated content sharing within online networks. But part of what we’ll do in this collection is to look more closely at those typical definitions, asking where “memetics” and “virality” might overlap and blur. We’ll also assess the “mainstreaming” of memetic media, arguing that the social practices long associated with sites like 4chan, reddit, and Tumblr matter beyond their relatively-niche confines. Last, we’ll explore the potential for public voice evident in these memetic and viral social practices.

So we invite you to our festival. The order of events is as follows:

In our estimation, there is no better group of scholars to be discussing these forms of mediated cultural participation at a time when they’re more resonate and consequential than ever. We hope our years of collective thought on these topics shines through in this collection, and we hope you enjoy the show.

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