Reflections on the Meme Machine

This is not a blog about memes or internet culture. That being said, I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I think there comes a point where you have to try and make some sense out of all the obscure, insane, bizarre, offensive, absurd things you see. This is my attempt, spurred by watching Filthy Frank’s video, Meme Machine. Originally, this essay was a late-night, hour-long IM to a friend of mine. I hesitated to post this on the OTL, but there’s no other place to put it.

My God have mercy on all our souls.

— Chris

“You know, it’s interesting. Memes kind of represent a post-modern form of shared youth culture, but it keeps curling back in on itself as internet denizens like you and me begin to acknowledge and meta-critique the development, rise, and fall of memes. Marxists spoke at length about the “culture industry,” the system by which films, radio show, and celebrities are produced in a manner akin to consumer products; in internet memes, this whole process is sped up via viral sharing, so that a whole new piece of culture can attain global cultural status in one day.

meme-machine-bear-blue-houseBut rather than passively consuming the memes, internet communities are extremely conscious of the rise of these culture products, as well as the cycle of critique, parody, counter-parody, and becoming an old, “classic” meme (like trollface). This kind of self-awareness (what the Marxists would call “consciousness”) inevitably goes where normal, “passive” mass culture does not–the recognition that all of these novel pieces of entertainment are ultimately just diversions to distract us from our unfulfilling lives. Maybe it’s unique to internet denizens and the otaku shut-in crowd, who are told by society that they’re wasting their lives in front of computers, but it’s the meme consumers and producers who are most conscious of the emptiness of their own brand of “mass culture” and consumerism.

Hence, the seemingly incongruous connection between Frank’s song about memes and the question: “Why has god abandoned us?” and the quiet cry “Help me.” This is an
acknowledgement by one of the chief internet culture producers that this whole system, of memes, is inexorably tied to an existential crisis in our youth culture and our post-industrial world–more than ever, the creativity and subjectivity of the world’s citizens is being expressed and shared, but, to our horror, it only expresses our collective id, rather than what Enlightenment philosophers would call “the human condition.” Memes, whose ridiculous, absurd origins and meanings can create huge shifts in culture overnight, are nothing more than the scribblings of an idiot.

“Meme Machine,” in the unique method of internet culture, takes a humorous, irreverent attitude toward internet culture itself, but at its core is the recognition, like Pagliacci the Clown, that memes cannot cure what memes have wrought. And like the punchline of the famous joke, it seems that Frank has realized that laughter and humor is the only response to “absurdity,” the boogeyman Kierkegaard and other existentialists identified as the chief enemy of the modern philosopher. The question becomes whether we take a step further and acknowledge Camus’ bold statement: that the only philosophical question worth pondering is suicide. Embracing memes, knowing that they are vacuous and without meaning, may be the modern “sickness unto death,” for surrendering to them signals despair. Memes, more than any piece of art, are an unfiltered glimpse into our collective consciousness, and the longer we gaze into them the more we see of ourselves, and of the abyss.”

Reflections on the Meme Machine