We no longer offer memes, these funny and offbeat images, symbols of internet culture. Inspired by snippets of movies, series or image banks, there are millions of them…so much so that this genre has its own encyclopedia. But if there’s something for everyone, some memes will pop up more often.
François Just, a semiologist, published April 21 Is Mimi? From parody to digital epidemic (CNRS Editions). In his book, he takes a look at the mechanics of their success, but also reveals what the memes say about us and the world around us. “I try to understand what memes are, their positive or negative uses, and above all I try to provide a network of analysis,” he says. Decoding five memes we see everywhere on the Internet.
“It’s OK” (“It’s All Right”): An Allegory of a Collapsed World
This meme that came out in 2013 shows that a dog is still quite calm as the room he’s in is on fire. “It represents a class of memes, the reactions themselves, which express through images an inner feeling, permeating the interaction on the site. Here, it is about conveying one’s sense of acceptance in the face of a desperate situation”, notes François Just. Then the photo becomes a topic of discussion among Internet users.
There is another distinguishing point according to the biologist: anthropomorphism, i.e. the attribution of human characteristics to other entities which is often expressed using animal memes. “In addition, the dog has large eyes, which is one of the attributes that make people ‘cute.’ Of course, like all memes, it has variants with different situations,” he adds. A world is collapsing, of course, but gently.
The distracted friend: a critique of capitalism?
An image originally from a database, it became a meme in 2015 when a comment was attached. “This type of memes differs from the previous one in that the exchange is not interfered with, rather something is generally said. I speak of the ‘poetic’ meme with reference to the etymology of the Greek word poiein, for creativity. Some netizens have also made variants that refer to earlier works of art. , like this version where two ancient statues are arranged in such a way that the couple appears to turn into a third, which appears to be advancing towards us.Or, again, Charlotte with his friend turns towards a passerby, explains François Just.
An image without meaning. “Mimes are often used to express ideas: for this reason I call them ‘ideal’, in particular thanks to the tagging technique that consists in giving meaning to an image through tagging,” develops a semiologist. He takes for example a version of this meme, where the young man becomes “young” (young), his “capitalist” (capitalist) girlfriend with whom he has just met “socialism” (socialism).). François Just adds: “The meme speaks volumes about the lure of youth socialism and its eventual acceptance of hand-held capitalism.”
“Math Lady” or “Confused Lady” “La matheuse” or “La femme confuse”): from the telenovela to the whole world
Another “meme reaction” appeared in 2013 and from the Brazilian telenovela, the picture was a hit for the first time in GIF form, featuring a Brazilian actress. “This viral image becomes an appropriate meme, from the moment you add something more to it. In this case, the signs, the mathematical forms and with the various myths, express a state of confusion ”develops François Just. “Adding words or details to a picture constitutes the transformation that results from the memes,” he adds.
The “Math Lady” meme fully represents the potential for the spread of these images: from Brazil, it went global. “It only got around when Buzzfeed Portugal included it in one of their best memes lists. Ratings and likes are key to a memes’ success,” explains the biologist.
“La femme criant sur un chat”, or cat discord
The starting point for this meme in 2018 is a picture of this white cat sitting, attached to a screenshot from an episode of the reality show. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and posted on Twitter by a user. The photo has been retweeted more than 78,000 times, and has garnered more than 200,000 likes on the platform. A meme comes from two images, which can be separate memes.
“Again, anthropomorphism is what makes them attractive. This is reinforced by the fact that the woman addresses the cat as if it were a person. These images only become memes with the many variables that they produce through their comments,” analyzes François Just.
“Confused Travolta” (“Confused Travolta”) in Kyiv, a political meme
This note was published by the Russian Embassy in Kyiv in early February as tensions escalated in Ukraine. He’s using a meme that appeared about ten years ago and represents John Travolta, in Pulp Fiction, plays the role of Vincent Vega. In the movie, he looks around a room, while Mia Wallace’s character gives directions,” says François Just. Several other versions of this meme have shown him in front of an empty toilet paper shelf at the start of confinement, in a toy store or even searching for his car in a parking lot.. .
For an embassy to use the meme, especially in times of war, this is not trivial, according to the researcher: “For the Russians, it was about showing that, despite all the talk about the upcoming war, nothing was happening in Kyiv. Travolta turned right and left To be sure. It’s interesting because it shows how memes can be used to mislead rather than joke. Moreover, the Travolta meme is not new, quite the contrary, it’s almost a “classic” meme in the sense of web culture. “It’s not as ephemeral as one might think. . Some of them constitute a heritage from which newcomers come”, adds François Just. In doing so he conveys a message, while relying on references known to all.
Francois Juste book, Is Mimi? From parody to digital epidemichas been available since the April 21 issue of CNRS.