How many times have we made the justification that “it’s just a meme” as defense for an opinion made public? What is a meme?
BY: El Cancerbero
If we listen to it’s main exponent – the “father of memes” Richard Dawkins -, it is a cultural element transmitted through social interaction, not through genetics. From here we can recognize memes as audiovisual and text unites that get transferred, adapted and made representative of social media moods. However in the essence of the meme we wouldn’t find that they are, by definition, “inoffensive”, but rather, since they are cultural units containing information or ideas they become, in turn, information transmitters. Be it a joke, an idea, an opinion or an artistic expression, even an education. Memes can be formative. There is a whole branch of pedagogical study on informal education, and I would qualify memes as such, but one thing is clear in the end, memes are media. Media by itself is neither good nor bad. It’s media! And it’s content and response depends only on ourselves.
This implies we could have all kinds of memes, even offensive ones, which could be painted as something “inoffensive” under the clause that it all depends on how you take them in regards of their cultural impact; however let’s not forget that culture is a two way street, which means, we make culture and culture makes us. It’s not enough to try to pretend that others see memes the same way I do, if I write something offensive and declare it “inoffensive” just because it’s in a cute or funny image, I can’t really expect someone to be forced to declare it inoffensive. Of course, since our culture is so diverse we should always take some effort in remaining calm when facing adversity. If the objective is to make a person feel humiliated or despised, we will notice that the intention is the real cause of offense, not responsibility of whoever feels offended, in other words, we can’t expect to throw out a direct offense and not expect anyone to feel offended. There is of course the real possibility that the intention never was to offend anyone and still have someone will feel offended.
Relax, I’m not making a case for extreme sensibilities, but let’s just remember that life is not black and white, but rather a scale of greys. I’m not saying any joke, any opinion out there is made with the express intention of degrading or humiliating, but that there can be some with the express intention of doing so. And it is frankly unfair to toss the blame on whoever felt offended by something expressly made to offend. If the intention is clear, explicit, repetitive, and loaded with a culture not only of memes, but also actions and made in a public environment. Because your joke that us philosophers are jobless, and have to write in blogs to earn some cents is funny for myself doing exactly that, but, what if it weren’t?
It is a complicated topic but we should look at it from all angles, there are those who effectively get offended because someone doesn’t have the obligation to know what gender someone identifies as, but neither do they have the obligation of being examples of stoicism, you are not obligated to degrade or humiliate other people, actually it’s quite the opposite, as a political being it is expected that you work for the common good as much as the private one (ever wondered where did the word ‘idiot’ come from?). There are spaces and forms, contexts and complexities, but if we don’t reflect upon our acts it will be difficult to somewhat reach an agreement about what is right and wrong since, of course, morality and ethics are not static subjects, and we have history as proof of that.
Anyway, next time you see a meme don’t just reduce it as some text over a harmless image for everyone, try to see it as an element of a very complex culture. My conclusion is that a meme is never “just a meme”, but rather an element with a humoristic posture, a critique. A whole cultural unit! And as far as public opinions go, they could cause quite some real damage if used along unfounded opinions. If you don’t believe me just look at the function of propaganda to veer public opinions in regard of wars, social, economic or political movements. How, when, and in what way or intention we use memes is up to us, and I don’t believe having mommy Facebook policing our opinions is the solution either. I think the solution is in everyone’s ethics and dialogue, never forgetting that we live in a world where other people are as valuable as we are.
Let’s dialog then. What do you think about all this?
– The contradictory one