Saturday, August 24, 2013

What is the intent of a Facebook 'meme'

Facebook includes a great many 'memes' - which are usually photos with some text superimposed on them, making some point about something.  Topics run the gamut, from one end of a spectrum to another.  All sides on any issue make use of them on Facebook.

Whenever I post a meme, usually a re-posting from someone else - I've only originated a handful of them - I'm constantly bombarded by complaints from people who castigate me for posting such a meme.  There comments typically fall in one of several categories:
  • The meme overgeneralizes - not everyone in some category mentioned by the meme engages in the evidently silly behavior mentioned in the meme.
  • The meme is incomplete - it omits/ignores certain facts, or it fails to include mitigating circumstances
  • The meme is biased - it's not consistent with a wholly objective analysis of the situation it claims to represent
  • The meme can be interpreted to imply that certain groups are always responsible for bad behavior while other groups are never responsible for that behavior
These incessant complaints about memes, it seems to me, are missing the point of posting the memes.  A meme is not capable of nuanced analysis.  Its capabilities for a full 'fair and balanced' presentation are sufficiently limited that such a requirement can't ever be achieved by a meme.  It's not quite so limited as a simple slogan, but it's not far from it.  The basic characteristic of Facebook memes is their one-sidedness.  Of course they're biased!  Is anything that anyone says ever wholly unbiased?  Of course they don't comprise a comprehensive analysis - the medium simply precludes that.  How one interprets a meme depends on the individual - you may read something into it that's not actually explicitly in the meme - implications can be quite subjective.  We may not agree on how to interpret the meme, after all.

So just what is the intent of a meme?  I certainly can't answer that in a wholly comprehensive way - I can't speak for everyone who posts them.  But it seems to me that the intent is to provoke a discussion.  I know when I repost memes, I'm often interested in hearing how the "targets" of the meme would respond to what the meme says.  Whining that the meme isn't comprehensive, or overgeneralizes, or fails to be 'fair and balanced' is simply avoiding the issue that the meme presents.  Is this true? Is it accurate?  If not, what can you present that shows that?  If the information is inaccurate or misleading, in what way is it so?  What are your sources that you believe validate your dispute of what it says?  If you're concerned about what it implies, rather than what it states explicitly, are you willing to accept that your interpretation of what it says might be different from my interpretation?  If our interpretations are different, which of us is 'right'?  Is it possible for us to decide that?  On what basis?

A meme is not a debate - it's a statement.  Such a statement might stimulate a discussion/debate, but it isn't a self-contained presentation of all sides - it is not a self-contained presentation of all conceivable sides.  Please let us discuss the merits or demerits of the meme's content without whining about it not being what a meme cannot be.  I enjoy the opportunity to learn how other people, who think differently from me, see the issues contained in the meme.  But please don't bitch to me about the meme on the basis of some criterion it can't possibly achieve!

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