By Anna Mullens, Indiana University
Amy Wagner’s video essay, “Article 13: Banning Memes and Cultural Expression,” highlights the importance of memes in today’s culture and how copyright laws such as Article 13 threaten to restrict this mode of expression. Furthermore, Wagner discusses the outburst from creators that brought attention to Article 13 and its implications, which raises the question, why are memes important?
Memes are more than a simple photo with text overlayed or compiled copyrighted content; they are a multimodal form of communication. On the internet, users lose many components of communication, such as inflection of the voice and facial and body expression. In turn, users created other forms of communication–like memes and emojis–to connect more effectively with each other. Wanger cites Limor Shifman’s “Defining Internet Memes,” stating that internet memes are “(a) a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance, which (b) were created with awareness of each other, and (c) were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users.”
Since memes are “circulated, imitated, and/or transformed,” they follow the rules of communication, which is to send or receive information. Furthermore, the transformation of memes means that those who interact with the meme are part of an active audience. In other words, people do not passively interact with memes; they interpret the memes and can freely share or change the meme if they please. Additionally, internet users interact with each other, and by doing so they find and share new memes. The internet is a place for fast rapport, and memes are not excluded; they either evolve into a new meme, or they disappear into the cobwebs of the internet.
However, many people are baffled by the significance of memes, pointing out that many memes lack meaning or depth. However, as Wagner discussed, the simplicity of a meme is not what matters. Rather, what matters is how memes can unify the internet–even if the meme is a remix of Smashmouth’s “All Star” where every word is ‘somebody.’
Memes are a way for people to share what they find funny, entertaining, interesting, and more, which is why they are so important. Internet users can communicate with each other through memes, as participants can assume an active role in receiving or sending a meme. Therefore, attempting to police memes not only hinders creative expression and opportunities for active response, but it also stilts communication between internet users. On the internet, memes help bridge the gap between cultures, thus creating a new, unified culture: internet culture. Copyright laws threaten this bridge, and by doing so, threaten to destroy a significant part of internet culture. Without memes, people lose a way to express themselves. With memes, internet users can share their humor, their commentary on pop culture or news stories, and much more. The possibilities for memes are endless, that is, if memes are not policed.