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Pathways: A Journal of Humanistic and Social Inquiry

Abstract

Internet memes (IMs) have been used as a visual form of online rhetoric since the early 2000s. With hundreds of thousands now in circulation, IMs have become a prominent method of communication across the Internet. In this essay, I analyze the characteristics that have made IMs a mainstay in online communication. Understanding the definitions and structures of IMs aid in explaining their online success, especially on social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I use these understandings as a basis from which to theorize how both the creative process in making IMs and the prominence of IMs that utilize images of originally violent or sensitive contexts may relate to existing research correlating violent media and desensitization. The use of these images often involves a disconnection from their original contexts in order to create a new and distinct— in many cases irrelevant— message and meaning. These IMs, in turn, exemplify the belittlement of distress depicted in such images—often for the sake of humor. This essay’s main goal is to propose a new theoretical lens from which to analyze the social and cultural influences on IMs.

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