Look at these two pictures above, one depicts as one of the richest woman in Australia, Gina Rinehart, an Australian mining heiress and a succesful business woman. People found out Jabba looks like her in that same posture. The other picture points to one of the most powerful man in Australia, Tony Abbott, the present Prime Minister of Australia. Somehow the Hobbit fans thought Tony and the “my precious” Gollum separated at birth. Their edited pictures are entertaining but not so appealing, somehow I feel disturbing, because you can see those pictures are full of dodginess and ugliness. Everytime when I see these kind of pictures, I’m trying to bring out the motivations behind the sense to tease the rich and the power and crack people up. In my point of view, they are the reflection of the internet eco system and public opinions. They are the memes.
What’s a meme?
It’s a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.
Who made this up?
Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ in his works The Selfish Gene. According to Dawkins (1976), examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, and ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
In digital age, memes are much more dynamic, they are embedded in the social media platform, so they can be seen as Twitter memes, Facebook memes or YouTube memes. For example, the drug girl Becky’s photo went wild on Twitter because she looks like hits killer Taylor Swift indisputably.
The Harlem Shake has over 100 copycats across the global on YouTube. And people can rate their favourite version after watching, on matter people living in the poor African country like Uganda or the rich European country like Netherland, they are all equal to appear online and share the spirit of entertainment.
China has different diversity of memes. Unlike countries with freedom of expression, China is a very restricted in its political sphere and it has yet to adopt democracy. Intense censorship mainly exist in publication and internet domain, therefore this offers opportunities for the birth of unique Chinese memes which is more political-oriented. Below, let’s take a look at some popular memes on Chinese internet, many political in tone is the key factor.
When Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest in 2010, this meme — a send-up of a KFC ad — began spreading across the Chinese internet. Why? Because while his name, and even his initials, were blocked by the government, the image got through the country’s censors. The spreading of the meme has been called ‘guerrilla activism’ (via Christian Science Monitor).
Grass Mud Horse
These alpacas aka Grass Mud Horse might look cute and fuzzy, but they are an example of a highly political meme in China. Grass mud horse, or Cao Ni Ma, first appeared in January 2009 as a symbol of anti-censorship sentiment in this video. Earlier this month, the alpaca symbol was seen on many signs in a protest in Hong Kong as Chinese President Hu Jintao celebrated the 15th anniversary of the city’s handover to China. On the internet, July 1 was officially dubbed “Grass Mud Horse Day,” as high numbers of people posted alpaca images (via NY Times).
Similarly, the sunflower seed has become an online symbol for artist Ai Weiwei, whose name and likeness where quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet when he was detained in 2011. (Watch the talk Ai Weiwei made for TED2011, just weeks before he was put under arrest in China and his studio destroyed.) As supporters realized that Weiwei’s nicknames, and even puns related to him, were also being blocked, they channeled his famous sunflower fields’ installation at the Tate Modern as a form of protest (via Fast Company).
To be frank, I don’t usually get all of those memes somehow, and I reckon some are even boring and cheap. However, the memes is crucial and integral as part of internet culture. Netizens can be the creator of a meme and makes jokes of whoever they want to. To some degrees, the memes is a symbolic way of the free speech, because they are created to remind the public of the actions done by CGC and others. In this way, such icons and images can help the voiceless, especially those who are fighting for internet freedom in this world.