Meme-Makers on Social Media
Recently, I attended an event that focused on environmental issues and brought together a lot of groups and individuals working on environmental sustainability and restoration efforts while voting in environmental protections. One environmentalist who I spoke to at one point pointed at a Grumpy Cat meme that featured an environmental message and said he didn’t pay attention to those at all, in fact he just looks at statistics and reports to get his environmental news. It’s as if the entire meme thing isn’t happening or hasn’t been happening.
I agreed with him that memes were probably not the place to get your news, however they are part of a widespread cultural practice on the internet that has been studied for at least ten years and has increased with the mainstreaming of social media. This discussion stuck in my head since that brutal day. I started to realize that part of the reason why what he said stood out to me has to do with a perceived generational gap. I wasn’t exactly sure of his age, but I’d say he was in his 60s and loved conducting his own research. There we go! Part of the reason why memes don’t speak to him is that he’s not part of the targeted audience that is trying to reach out to younger generations who are surrounded with memes and creating them. And, worse, he’s ready to just outright dismiss them, just skip right over them. (Better yet, dismiss political cartoons and commentary in newspapers to just get right to the news. Um, I don’t think so, Larry. Not that high brow gentry, I rest assured.)
Another environmentalist who I spoke with will never go on Facebook, because she thinks it’s too manipulative as a result of the memes and that most people cannot help but be manipulated by all the images. This made me think. I developed this question. How are memes helping raise awareness about environmental concerns? This post aims to answer that question, and also share a few memes that share environmental messages.
First of all, what’s a meme? It is a socially transmitted cultural symbol or idea that can appear as an image with a phrase or even a video with phrases and images. They are a commonality on the internet. They transmit an idea or an opinion virally. Some meme makers see them as creating trends, while others see them as mocking trends. Depends on the creator, right? They make us think or laugh. Sometimes they convey sarcasm, our beliefs, fears, judgments or joys but in a safe and accessible way. They are meant to influence the viewer and how we view our lives.
As social commentary, they are making their rounds and help people think about environmental issue. So, in this way, I had taken issue with the comment against a grumpy cat meme with an environmental message. They raise awareness. They help people click on like, share their opinion, and maybe appreciate the image and the phrase for what it is doing. Sure, maybe someone will fact check. Maybe another person will just take the message in and mull it over. Another person, may serve up a rebuttal of their own.
They have by many online users, critics and supporters, over the past several years become an unmistakably relevant piece of culture given their exponential growth. Every day, online users are exposed to social commentary served up on memes like cheese on crackers. I’m glad it includes environmental social commentary. While critics wrongly compare them to environmental research that is data driven, they are meant to open dialogue about sensitive subjects by those who make them to consider social issues. And, surprise, surprise, sometimes they even contain stats. As little digestible snippets, they are thought-provoking and even sometimes controversial or provocative and keep people wondering about the impact on environment and climate change in clever ways. Maybe people aren’t using decals as much on their cars, but those same people might consider a meme that doesn’t have a sticky backside. Plunty of interesting memes and on various social issues. I just happen to emphasize environmentally focused ones.
Here are a few I’ve found that made me think, chuckle or go ‘oh my.’ (Starting the meme making machine!)