Meme Culture, Alienation Capital, and Gestic Play. Edited by Talan Memmott and Davin Heckman. Special issue of Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, vol. 32, 2017.
Ideally, this review will look at first glance like a book review, but then move in to hyper-review territory in a hall-of-mirrors-memetic representation of the issue. Interested? — take a look — and get back to me asap — need a fast (INSTANT) turn around … Others will give you a deadline. Here’s what I am thinking: Soon. Now. Yesterday. Format: video, images, memes, — words too! Length: Short, Sweet, Global-Groove — equivalent to 1000 words (a picture paints a … words) Let me know what you think. ~ Craig Saper
~ Craig Saper
This request to write a review for rhizomes.net from my good friend and fellow media commentator Craig Saper came speeding through my email inbox, as the ultimate definition of a meme, with the intensity and velocity of a meme trajectory. How appropriate! With equally frenetic lightening speed I organized my response, a compendium of thoughts on the subject – the meme – an entity or concept or popular icon that travels so quickly through the cultural bloodstream we barely have time to think, let alone reflect. Let me try.
Memes are so deeply embedded in our everyday networked culture, I dare say, we don’t even think of them explicitly as memes (i.e. an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture), but rather, a necessary staple of our daily media diet that we happily ingest without a care or thought. They go down smoothly, like butter or candy, with a buzz of intoxication that has transformed us all into helpless addicts suffering from major Attention Deficit Disorder. Fortunately, there are a few intrepid critics in the world of the digital humanities who dare to examine the nature of mimetic proliferation, who invest in their harvest and dissection. In the latest issue of rhizomes.net (coming out in June, 2017), Talan Memmott and Davin Heckman have pieced together an online “symposium” of memetic inquiries, diatribes, and manifestos: MEME CULTURE, ALIENATION CAPITAL, AND GESTIC PLAY. I invite you to take the plunge.
So under an impossibly short deadline to digest this entertaining and enlightening research on the study and anti-study of the meme, my brief, let us say, “UnderReview” is in line with Talan Memmott’s mercurial UnderAcademy, the academic braintrust and research mechanism behind this timely project. Here is the anti-blurb to the experimentally dada-infused, anti-academic UnderAcademy:
UnderAcademy College is an unaccredited undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate anti-degree institution. UnderAcademy College situates itself as a shadow-academic environment offering alternative courses and anti-degree programs in a variety of subjects. The primary mission of UnderAcademy College is to remain open, marginal, and unaccredited.
Bravo! What a refreshing rapproachement that has yielded a form of open education in the spirit of Joseph Beuys’ Free International University, an anti-MOOC inspired “outre academy” for peer-to-peer investigations into comprehending the complexities and absurdities of contemporary culture. The results of UnderAcademy classes and research is here archived and compiled as a powerful discourse on mimetics. If I had a week or two (or a year), I could give you a reasonable and informed response to their queries and investigations, so instead, I provide a random sampling of a few choice hors d’oeurvres to whet your appetite:
For sure, memes, or at least the personas they possess, present something of a gestic form that performs a social function beyond their cultural place… We can consider the captions reinforcement for the gestic values of goofy grin, braces, sweater vest, bad haircut… My memes suck. They never get shared. I don’t put my own name on them. I don’t even like them myself… What if what we call “viral media” is not viral at all? Sure, it is information. Sure it spreads. But what if it is a cancer?… I want to be buried in a meme. Scatter my digital accumulations across the winds of twitter like 010101 ashes…
I invite you to help yourself, which is ultimately the intent of this quasi-anarchic approach, to better understand the mimetic play and spiraling viral missives that constitute the overfeeding of our information culture, especially in these hyper-dangerous times of TRUMP. MEME CULTURE, ALIENATION CAPITAL, AND GESTIC PLAY is where you want to invest your intellectual capital (so to speak), as perhaps a manual for surviving 21st century social media. Given that memes are practically all we talk about, all we look at, swirling everywhere it seems, this playfully serious investigation is the place to begin your research.
Randall Packer is a multimedia artist, composer, writer and educator, and has worked at the intersection of interactive media, live performance, and networked art since the 1980s. Packer holds an MFA and PhD in music composition and has taught multimedia at the University of California, Berkeley, Maryland Institute College of Art, American University, California Institute of the Arts, Johns Hopkins University, and the Museum of Modern Art.
He is currently a Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Art, Design & Media at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, where he teaches networked art practice. Packer is co-editor of Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality and the author of the long-running blog Reportage from the Aesthetic Edge.