Welcome to the generation of expressing emotions or thoughts through the use of memes, GIFs, and emojis. Be honest, how frequently do you find yourself sitting next to a person who randomly bursts out laughing and you ask, “what’s so funny?” Then their response is to flip their phone around to show you a meme? All the time.
Believe it or not, memes, GIFs, and emojis are forms of visual rhetoric. In a brilliant study, Subversive Memes: Internet Memes as a Form of Visual Rhetoric, conducted by Heidi E. Huntington, it was found that “internet memes may be viewed as a form of subversive communication in a participatory media culture.” Meaning that our culture now has evolved into using visual images and quirky phrases as a form of conversation and communication. Likewise, images and cartoons have been used as symbols throughout our culture to portray deeper meaning. Thus the concept is not a novelty but the context in which our culture as began communicating (memes) is. Memes are typically humorous but often times you’ll come across a meme that also communicates a problem or hard truth that is considered a current societal issue. For example, this meme about United Airlines after the forceful removal of Dr. David Dao,
The conclusion of this study was that,
Memes are more than internet humor; research shows them to function by appropriation and resistance to dominant media messages. By examining how memes can operate in subversive and representation always, this paper offers scholars a framework for the study of memes as symbolic, persuasive texts. Just as the application of visual rhetoric expands general rhetorical theory by acknowledging “the role of the visual in our world” (Foss, 2004, p. 310), examining memes as a form of rhetoric can expand understanding of the way memes function in a participatory media culture.
Recently this week, one meme, in particular, caught my attention. I’ll give you a hint: it involved a cat and a square.
Twitter turned this tweet into a moment that captured cat lovers alike.
Danielle Matheson’s (@prograpslady) viral Tweet about her mom’s feline home experiment has inspired plenty of imitators and silenced dozens of doubters along the way.
As you can see, the tweet received a massive response because it spoke to cat lovers who were curious about the square. Would their cat crawl into that square on the floor? We all know cats love to be in boxes but…this challenged cat logic! This sparked engagement from the cat lover audience who rapidly began testing the theory.
Those were just a few of many, you can view more reactions here. The point is that visual rhetorical devices such as memes, GIFs, and emojis can be used to communicate *successfully and effectively.
*If your audience responds to whichever form you use to communicate, then it has been successful. For instance, I fell victim to the cat in the square movement…therefore, it successfully communicated to me.
My black cat, Killian, fell for the square but my Tortoiseshell, Atlas, not so much.
Warmest Regards & Mahalo,