© Copyright 2021 Jordan Mark, Ryerson University
Memes are something that cannot be easily explained or researched as anything can become a meme at any time and anywhere. A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme. Memes are able to be seen as content with mutual characteristics that can be circulated, imitated, and transformed through the internet by many different people on the web. I decided to pick this topic because memes are something that is really fascinating and thought it would be an interesting topic to research on. I find that memes are very subjective, something that may be funny to someone could also be offensive to another. A meme that someone could relate to could also mean that someone cannot relate to it at all. Meme culture is something that is extremely popular in our culture today and the majority of the population if not all are engaged with memes in some sort of way. For my research, I will be particularly looking at Covid-19 mask memes and these specific memes below are agents of globalization and communicate a lot than just humor. Mask memes may be a way for society to laugh and lighten up during the pandemic with all the chaos that is happening around the world. When looking closer and analyzing a mask meme one may be able to interpret a lot more than it actually shows. I believe that all memes are agents of globalization due to their innate nature, a wide number of genres, and being able to spread extremely quickly throughout society by whatever means possible. Limor Shifman in her book “Memes in Digital Culture” mentions how “for the discourse of the public meme genres play an important part in the building of group identity and social boundaries” (Shifman, 100). I firmly agree with and believe that these memes I am presenting do fit into that category.
The first meme I will be discussing is where a man is wearing a cooking ware lid as a mask with the caption “When you run out of masks but need to wear something to buy more”. Looking critically at this meme there could be many interpretations and meanings hidden behind its image. In Scott Wark’s Meme Theory he discusses why memes are so important and how they tell us about where those ideas came from and their origins. He then goes on to say how memes help in the study of epistemology to understand human nature, origin and our knowledge capacity and limits.
This connects with this meme because of the nature of people, nobody would really think to use a pot lid for cooking as a mask for covid-19. Although the efficiency and effectiveness of it is questionable it does prove that people can always adapt and improvise in situations where it is needed. This meme is an agent of globalization as it spreads and raises awareness for masks and their importance.
Looking critically at the image you can see that it is trying to convey the significance of wearing a mask, it is basically saying wearing some sort of mask/protection is better than nothing. However, looking at this from a different perspective it might also be spreading misleading information for those who mighthave not done their research or not been educated on the topic of the virus. People may start to think that as long as you have some sort of face covering you will be protected from the virus, there is a reason why officials recommend face masks rather than face shields as they are more effective. I believe that this meme has a good nature as it is trying to raise awareness for masks around the world but some may interpret it the wrong way or get the wrong idea.
The next meme I will be talking about is a woman using rubber bands and a CD disk as a mask with the caption “People walk around with DIY masks like”. This meme is an agent of globalization due to its double meaning depending on what perspective a person is looking at it from. From one side you can see it as supporting masks and being responsible but looking at it from another point of view, you may see someone who is an anti masker and would wear anything besides an actual mask. She may even have been forced to improvise a mask due to the mandatory mask policy inside stores and as you can see in the picture she is quite close to street stores. Within Limor Shifman’s Memes in Digital Culture she talks about how every meme will never have a singular meaning or interpretation as they are ambiguous and everchanging (Shifman, 39). It is an ironic meme as the woman in the picture is wearing a CD disk that says Anti-Virus however it really doesn’t prevent the coronavirus whatsoever.
Putting all jokes aside people may think that this might be a concerning picture. Many could interpret this picture that the woman may actually believe that it may actually mean antivirus. This meme may be able to spread false information if people are not educated enough. People may start to believe that anything can be a mask and prevent the particles and bacteria from entering your body. On the other hand people may see it as reinforcing masks in a humorous way to spread awareness that everyone should be wearing masks at all times when they’re outside of their homes. I believe that it could also be seen as reflection onto what our society thinks, that people are very easily persuaded or even refuse to believe. It represents people failing to believe scientists and doctors recommendations from the beginning of the pandemic which has led us here.
The third mask meme I will be discussing is this one where it is making fun of North America always complaining about wearing a mask and making a problem out of it while the rest of the world is completely fine with wearing a mask to prevent the coronavirus. This meme is an agent of globalization as it spreads political meanings that could heavily influence society. Once again Shifman talks about in her book how politics are deeply embedded and intertwined within the consumption of memes. She explains how traditionally engagement and participation in politics were practices that were easily calculated and measured such as voting or joining political organizations, she mentions, however, the spectrum has now broadened and many things can count towards being involved in politics such as commenting on posts or posting jokes about politicians or views (Shifman, 120). Going more into depth this meme has a political standing because of its caption and intentions. Looking at the meme you can see that the meme is making fun of anti-maskers and shows support for wearing masks. It also basically states that the meme doesn’t support that masks trample over people’s rights. This mask meme can be seen as quite controversial and debatable due to its political nature, many people may see this as a ploy to conform to government rules and norms.
Another reason this mask meme is political is because it mentions the norms of other countries by saying that they wear the mask without protest or complaints. It might look humorous and very joke-like at first but if you really take it seriously you can see that it is asking America why is the rest of the world complying and understanding this concept but North Americans fail and refuse to believe it. Limor Shifman also spoke about “how memes and virals have played an important role within this new landscape of Web-based political participation, both in grassroots and top-down campaigns” (Shifman, 122). Shifman is stating that political memes have more influence and power than people may actually think. I believe that this mask meme is one of them, looking from different perspectives you can see that it is hinting at the responsibility of America and not just the people and citizens but the officials and those who are in charge and have power. Although this meme may seem funny to many people if you take it seriously you can see that it is intentionally throwing them under the bus. It is stating that people in America are either too privileged, ignorant, or self-centered to wear a mask and cooperate with the rest of society to help end this pandemic.
The last mask meme I will be talking about is this one where the woman is yelling at the cat, I’m sure the majority of people have seen this if not all of you. The change to this meme was adding the mask to the woman and changing the captions to fit into the pandemic standard and culture. In Memetics and Folkloristics: The Theory by Elliot Oring he talks about the theory of how a meme is basically the equivalent of a gene, a selfish gene a t that and multiples at whatever it is best at adapting to (Oring, 436).
This correlates quite well with this meme due to the fact that it has already been around for a while and is extremely versatile and can mean about anything as long as a person puts it out there. This specific mask meme is an agent of globalization as it spreads awareness on those who don’t wear a mask during the pandemic, you can also tell that they are pointing out that they’re selfish people as the last caption says “you don’t say” which shows that those anti-maskers don’t really care for other people’s safety and believe they’re being stripped of their freedoms which can be true to a degree. This meme is basically telling people that rather than caring for the safety of the people around them and their own they rather complain about their rights while millions of people are dying of the virus.
Memes are something that is usually humorous and relatable which could differ from person to person, they have become something that is important in our culture and society. People are able to convey through memes what they are thinking about and throughout the pandemic, mask memes are able to spread awareness and information even though that information may be false. Memes are something that brings out culture and is able to be a form of connection and information for society. It represents what our society is thinking, believing, and what they’re against. In conclusion mask memes are agents of globalization because of the diverse nature and amount of genres there are. Without memes many people would be unable to connect and convey to one another through a new cultural practice.
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