Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

An Issue of Uncertain Meanings

Posted by Sean Hull on January 30, 2017

Though not the primary focus of the readings assigned, Whitney Phillips’ supplement to “In Defense of Memes” is an interesting read, in part thanks to Sam Ford’s comment about the inability for academic publishing to keep up with phenomena in today’s media environment. Though Spreadable Media’s “How to read this book” segment also makes note of modern media’s unforeseeable future, I find that both “In Defense of Memes” and its supplement are far more interesting examples of how little we can guess about the future of our near-omnipresent digital environment.

The word “troll”, which since the writing of “In Defense of Memes” has come to refer specifically to people who are deliberately offensive and provocative in online interactions, is the subject of the supplement. Written roughly two years after the initial article, it is incredible to consider that a supplement would be needed after such a short period. Two years after this semester, what supplements might we wish to create for our works in this class? No matter how much we may try and account for future developments in popular media, prediction will be of no use to us. After all, “In defense of Memes” begins with Whitney Phillips “[taking] issue with the claim that “meme” always precludes active engagement—or that the term has a universal, static meaning”, showing obvious awareness that aspects of popular culture as a subject of study are constantly shifting targets, but even with this in mind, Phillips could not have known that the nebulous term “troll” would coalesce into a singular definition, turning her article into something that retrospectively seems irreverent to important terminology.

As for the other two articles, “The History of Spreadable Media” and “Twitter Revolutions?”, the former article was an interesting depiction of how, as the means of production and distribution of media grew in scope and speed throughout history, it has allowed individuals more choice in what information they share and consume, and the latter article was a potent example of this very tendency towards increased sharing of information as described in the former. Though sometimes skeptical of online activism’s ability to reach its intended goals, the latter article’s description of the internet as a means of raising awareness where traditional reporting is unable to gather data grimly reflects the conclusion of “The History of Spreadable Media”: “The protocols and controls imagined by institutions, whether the state or religious authorities or the heavy industry of media, have historically had little impact on populations eager to share experiences and to modify them in their own ways.”


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