Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Eyebrows on fleek
All your base are belong to us
I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog too
One does not simply…walk into Mordor
Do you recognize any of these phrases? Do images come to mind when you hear them?
My guess is that most readers can identify these as common Internet memes: Phrases that drop from seemingly nowhere and are suddenly said everywhere. (If you don’t recognize them, google a few and you will soon discover a new world.)
Why do these exist? You may be thinking now, “who knows?” “who cares?” or perhaps even:
I would like to humbly suggest that all these phrases build a common culture, a shared poetics, capable of spreading ideas, laughter, joy, idiocy, wisdom, and general being-together-ness, the same way adages (“A stitch in time saves nine” “Early to bed…” “Haste makes waste”), poetry, folktales, or fables provide a medium for sharing ideas among a social group.
Why call it “Poetics”? Isn’t this elevating the super-mundane to the arch and sublime?
Like poetry, memes lose their thrust when paraphrased or translated literally word for word. Memes get meaning not from individual words, but from the way words (and images, fonts, sound, music) are put together. As an astute student of mine pointed out, the expressive power of “Ain’t nobody got time for that” does not come through in a translation like, “Nobody has sufficient time to do that.”
And why does this matter?
Memes provide us a new way of thinking about how language works. A way that is not homogenizing or reliant on a standardized set of rules or definitions. To the contrary, memes often accumulate their meaning by combining ways of speaking that we don’t typically think of going together. The arid diction of “One simply does not walk into Mordor” and the earthy “Aint nobody got time for that” combined give us joy! The fantastical “I’ll get you my pretty” from Wizard of Oz lends an extra hint of evil when it is layered onto a more contemporary political rivalry:
Now, take this view of memes and modern day poetics and think of everyday communication: Expressing ourselves can be more effective, creative, joyous and communicative when we combine words/languages/gestures and images so freely; When “Aint nobody got time for that” can be used in the same sentence as “the quadradic equation”; Or when phrases from Spanish, French, Tagalog, and English can rally one another in new, yet recognizable, combinations.So, memes, while functional as poetic chunks, also take on meaning in these creative combinations. They provide the medium for continued snowballing of expression.
What role do Internet memes play in your life? Do they facilitate communication? Thinking? By analogy, do combinations of ways of speaking make communicating more facile? Do you know any multilingual memes? Add your comments, memes, examples here!