Tumblr and the New “Meme-ing” of Fandom

Tumblr users are crafting new kinds of memes and representations that reveal the dialogic nature of cultural production.  This is what I will refer to as the “mash-up meme,” where dialogue from one cultural production is imposed upon an image from another cultural production.  In analyzing these particular memes, it becomes clear that the evolution of memes, much like other cultural productions, is never-ending, in line with cultural dialogism.

Many of the most popular mash-up meme tumblr sites use quips from a comedic production and overlays them on images from dramatic productions.  These sites include Arrested Westeros (a mash-up of quotes from Arrested Development and images from Game of Thrones); Arrested Misérables (a mash-up of quotes from Arrested Development and images from Les Misérables); The Westeros Crowd (a mash-up of quotes from The IT Crowd and images from Game of Thrones); and Les Mean Girls (a mash-up of quotes from Mean Girls and images from Les Misérables).

For the viewer to understand the humor of the meme fully, he or she must have significant knowledge of both productions included in the meme.  Thus, the quotes can be appreciated on two levels: both for the way they appeal to their own narrative universe and for their fit with the narrative universe of the dramatic work being pictured.  To see this in action, here is one of my favorite mash-up memes, from Les Mean Girls.

Les Mean Girls

When viewed with the text, the image relates back to the assembly scene in Mean Girls rather than a scene of protest as it does in Les Misérables.  The author re-imagines the scene playfully, removing a grave connotation to create something much more light-hearted.  From all the mash-up meme tumblr pages, this is a common trend.  The image from the dramatic work is transformed into a comedic moment through the clever melding of plot elements between the dramatic and comedic pieces.

This touches on Bakhtin’s theories on cultural dialogism.  To Bakhtin (1986), in the operations of expression, “[t]he utterance is filled with dialogic overtones . . . .   [O]ur thought itself — philosophical, scientific, artistic — is born and shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others’ thought” (p. 92).  These tumblr pages host this kind of interaction and struggle – that is, between the plot and dialogue of two different cultural productions.  The mash-ups, then, show viewers responding to both texts at once.  This shows how the act of interpretation is continuous: “[e]ven past meanings, that is those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all) – they will always change” (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 170).  Viewers can revisit the meanings and themes of older productions by imposing attributes of newer productions onto them.

In turn, the particular way this occurs embodies not only a convergence of divergent film genres, but also a new form of meme-ing.  Through mash-up memes, the content that glues different fan communities together converges.  That in itself shows dialogism at work, and it is exciting to think about how the techniques behind such memes may be pushed even further in the future.

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M. (1986).  Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson and M. Holquist, Eds, V.W. McGee, trans.).  Austin. TX.  University of Texas Press.

Ned Prutzer

Ned Prutzer is a former CCT Graduate Student.