A weapon of mass reproduction?

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What are memes? Images that come and go, the pinnacle of cyber humor or the key format of contemporary social thought? Issues like this – and more – will address the Memefest 2021, a festival organized by the collective Internet Girls and the Center Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona (CCCB) that this Saturday, November 27, welcomes great personalities of digital folklore in Spain. Samantha Hudson, Marc Sarrats and Núria Guiu, along with Lucía Calvo, a member of the collective that created the festival, tell us about it.

In its 3rd edition, the Memefest promises to be a “casual and cathartic” cultural event, a space where fans of digital culture can take the opportunity to exchange memes and points of view, make networking or simply ramble on about this phenomenon that has been jumping from screen to screen for fifteen years now.

The objective is “to reflect on issues such as the impact of the Internet on our lives, cultural wars, accelerated lives, the job insecurity of content creators, mental health in times of social networks or overexposure”, explains Calvo, member from Filles d’Internet.

From the Dawkins meme to the memesphere

Before, contextualization. The term was coined in 1976, but the original meaning has nothing to do with the memes we know today. On The selfish gene (1976), the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins used the word “meme” to name each cultural unit capable of replicating itself, somehow establishing an analogy with genes. In fact, Dawkins analyzed the way in which certain species of birds assimilate a melody and then imitate it during mating. No humor, no politics: pure mimetics. Me-me.

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They live by replication: the meme becomes a meme when it is successively replicated. Dawkins defended natural selection in this sense (if the meme does not replicate, it does not survive), and has even been branded a neo-Darwinian for such an approach.


Meme with Richard Dawkins, creator of the word ‘meme’. Memefest

What is the trail of the meme that we know? It emerged in 2006 on the 4chan.org platform with Advice Dog and LOLCats, two memetic series based on the reiteration of the same format. In Spain, the RAE introduced ‘meme’ in the dictionary twelve years later, in 2018, and since 2015 the National Library has produced its own “memeteca” compiling them (all?). Internationally, KnowYourMeme does the same. And in recent years, mememarketing has even been born!

“Social connection, catharsis and avoidance: what are memes and what are they for

Sarrats, a leading Catalan writer and comedian, believes that “a meme is nothing without its context”. Faced with Dawkins’ definition, he opts for Albert Lloreta’s: “the meme is the dust of the Internet.” In cyberspace, everything is very fast and leaves dust. To identify where it comes from, you need something.

The memes that require little context or little mastery of cyber news are over, in his opinion, blaming boomers: “They have few layers of irony, they are very easy to decipher”. But the memesphere is curious: “The ones that may seem more absurd without context are the ones that make us more funny when we master the context”.

Samantha Hudson, a well-known singer, celebrity and LGTB activist, is a fan of the opposite: “from my point of view, the more random and decontextualized, the better!”.

They are almost a rhetorical figure, a new literary genre, the popular proverb of today’s youth. (Hudson)

According to Calvo, “They create a counter-narrative to official or traditional media discourses” and “they have a very important function of social connection, catharsis and evasion”. For this reason, in the face of global crises, tragedies, attacks or major events such as elections, the networks are flooded with memes. He believes that “memes are only the vehicle we choose to express ourselves on the Internet.”

People need to confront these speeches through jokes, as an escape route from information saturation. (Bald)

They tackle “whatever they set their mind to,” says Hudson. “They express it between many layers of irony,” adds Sarrats. And Calvo continues: “they can transport any idea, from the most progressive to the most conservative and ultra-liberal, from the most absurd to the most rigorous and serious.” It continues: there are memes of any subject, specialized accounts “about fatigue, discouragement or anxiety experienced by generations Z and millenial”Or far-right accounts and deniers.

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The memes … Young thing? Concrete ideology?

“Who doesn’t get excited when they receive a ‘good morning’ meme in the family WhatsApp group?” Asks Calvo. Although he points out the advantage of digital natives at this point, he does not think it is exclusive.

Y Samantha Hudson coincide: “meme language is very “heritage” of the new generations, but there is also meme culture in previous generations ”. Cite, for example, the funny little signs with minions that her mother posts on Facebook. Definitely, “your grandmother can send you a meme “, says Sarrats. ‘The stamps’ (that’s what her partner’s grandmother calls them) have been leaked, in her opinion, to all generations.

Organizado por el Centre Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, el Memefest analiza la cultura digital.

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Organizado por el Centre Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, el Memefest analiza la cultura digital.

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Organizado por el Centre Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, el Memefest analiza la cultura digital.

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Organizado por el Centre Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, el Memefest analiza la cultura digital.

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Organizado por el Centre Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, el Memefest analiza la cultura digital.

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    Organized by the Center Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, ​​the Memefest analyzes digital culture.

    Organized by the Center Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, ​​the Memefest analyzes digital culture.



    Organized by the Center Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, ​​the Memefest analyzes digital culture.

    Organized by the Center Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona, ​​the Memefest analyzes digital culture.



What ideology are they? Like everything in life, it depends. In Sarrats’s opinion, “the ideology of the meme is irony, with all the advantages and all the risks that this can carry”. In his opinion, “in the same way that it serves to interfere with the right wing, the meme has been widely used by the right wing to make their speech, even ridiculous, in all layers of society.” He thinks that the memes are “apolitical and quite without ideology”, and adds that he may be totally wrong. Along the same lines, Hudson affirms that “of course, they do not understand ideologies.”

Isabel Díaz Ayuso is a meme, and that is precisely one of her most effective strategies to win votes and achieve popularity (Hudson)

TikTok: Is the secret in the meme?

Memes are “the jokes of the 21st century” or “like little screams, warnings, calls for attention”, according to the member of Filles d’Internet. It proposes different meanings: Although the best known format is image + text with Impact typography, memes have adopted multiple forms and languages ​​”. He explains that TikTok, a social network that has beaten figures in active users worldwide, is “the memetic social network par excellence.” Copy, repeat, imitate and remix are “the basis of most of the content shared by the tiktokers ”, concludes.

Núria Guiu, performer, dancer and choreographer, poses an interesting trinomial in her work: body-power-digitality. and view TikTok in the same way. The same choreography, action or proposal “is repeated many times until somehow it becomes a kind of icon or even symbolism”, explains Guiu.

Just as a meme template can have as many texts as it wants, the dancer assures that, sometimes, the dance of the Chinese app itself “is interpreted or covered because whoever does it is different, there is a certain performativity, interpretation”, especially when it comes to the body. She calls him “Weapon of mass reproduction”.

There are so many videos of different people dancing the same – or almost the same – choreography on TikTok … In Barcelona, ​​where he lives, young people no longer dance sardanas in the square. Now they are looking for “large windows where they rehearse choreographies with a certain frontality and sometimes dances that have become viral are reproduced,” he reflects.

To what extent this could be called a new dance folklore or digital folklore (Guiu)

Guiu questions whether these kinds of dances are “a new form of internationalized digital folk dance” thanks to the expansion that they charge in TikTok. For all the choreographies that his work group gets to know, he believes that “Between them they have a code, they are like a TikTok file.”

The artist, who mixes her particular trinomial with a critical perspective, explains that all this has a double edge. It has nothing against new technologies “far from it”, but the mechanisms used … “To survive you have to commodify certain products, right?”.

From his perspective, on TikTok he is “your body selling true… I will not say product, but it is curious. A dance appears; the next, the ad for a lipstick that leaves your lips more voluminous and, the next, another with which you can put a filter on which you already appear with super voluminous lips ”.

believes that “There is a fluid that passes from the digital to the body and at the same time enters the market, in capital.” And remember, at this point, the double power that young people have, a possibility that he did not know in adolescence.

Beyond the laughter they provoke, memes emerge in the contemporary communication scene as a double-edged cultural product. On the one hand, they echo current events from a critical perspective; on the other, they arouse the interest of different fields such as business and politics due to their incredible power and influence on Public Opinion. The intention of the Memefest is “Experiment with new formats that transport the digital and the meme to the museum”, according to Calvo.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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