Synchronicity and Resonance: The Qualities of Memes

Yup, it's a meme.

Every meme has a synchronicity – a coincidence, a convergence of meanings of the textual and the graphical. Memes are used in communication between people when their message or intent coincide with what that person wants to say.

Did you ever get a greeting card from someone with a witty little phrase on it? Have you ever felt conflicted about whether or not to throw away the card? Or how about feeling irritated by how cheap and commonplace the sentiment was that the card expressed? The greeting card offers a kind of commercially crappy synchronicity, a non-causal coincidence of meanings arranged by commercial intent to create an advertising gestalt for a saleable commodity. It represents a decision by someone, somewhere, that this kind of crap would be calculatedly appealing to 60% of the population because they’d be going through certain demographically predictable life events.

The meme offers the same kind of coincidence that the greeting card offers, but instead of coming from some poor hack writer somewhere sitting alone at a desk writing their way through a spreadsheet of commercially necessary life events, it comes from some anonymous source on the Internet that is usually never even done the courtesy of acknowledgment of authorship (for memes have no copyright, no ownership – and even if someone did come along and say they made a meme, how meaningless is that anyway?).

When you post a bad day meme to your Facebook, are you claiming authorship of that meme? Or are you indicating instead that the meme communicates what you want to communicate? It just so happened that there was a meme for what you were feeling. The meme is the throwaway comment that needs no exhaustive history of authorship or ownership; it simply is as a cultural fact, and it is deployed and used without claim of authorship, and since it is transitory and publicly owned, there is no card to feel guilty over throwing away, or awkward for not knowing how to deal with; the meme expresses a meaning and as soon as it is communicated, grows stale and irrelevant and falls away from the self like the husk of a meaning.

This kind of “free democratic commonly owned expression of sentiment” conception of the meme is the synchronicity at play in memes. It is a convergence of meanings between personally held meanings and intentions and publicly available units of discourse. To use a meme not only indicates that you are a witty and awesome person who found something that communicates precisely what this situation is – it also communicates, by context and connotation, that this is a person who feels and expresses things that are in keeping with what is out there in the world and on the Internet. The meme is a form of self-identification through participation in an explicit or latent group discourse. It marks a moment when the image-making activities of the community coincide with the identity-making activities of the self.

The particular mode of synchronicity depends upon the linguistic aspects of the language – semantic, grammatical, syntactical, pragmatic – that are deployed within the meme. Misspellings by cats are certainly endearing after a fashion – but that’s because the nearest connotation (conscious or unconscious) is the fracturing of language and self-reference so common to children with learning or attachment disorders. We find the cat cute for the same reasons we find children’s lisps or the infantile vocalizations of babies or toddlers to be cute. The cat that wants cheeseburger is not endearing because it’s a stupid-looking cat (if that were the case, then the image by itself would be famous, not the meme); it’s endearing because it is a stupid-looking cat speaking with the voice of a broken child.

Every meme has a resonance – a fabric of associations and connotations that are evoked by the elements of the image that composes it. The image component of a meme evokes, not describes, because it is always a scissioned element of reality, a cropped out portion of the world. Meme images are often thematically demonstrative of a newly enchanted everyday world or a strange sometimes cute one – but they always present a fragment of this alternative paradigm of reality. There is violence done to the image by chopping it from the context from which it originated and splashing witty words across it, and this violence has echoes that spread throughout the network of associations and meanings that images have.

The resonance of a meme is the way in which it echoes or resounds – the way that it bespeaks, sometimes in elegantly, minimalistically evocative terms, sometimes in crudely allegorical ones, an alternative reality from which it is wrenched. Linguistic intents and meanings are imputed onto images, in the process bringing language from an orthogonal relationship to the image’s informational content (where it is merely descriptive or explanatory of the mode of description or evocation that the picture presents) to aligned with it (where it speakes for or with the picture), aligning the viewer in the process. Meme resonance can be captured, at least partially, in mathematical terms, because the images that compose memes have innate levels of Shannon entropy – a determinate numerical measure of image complexity. The idea of a numerically fixable, intrinsic quality to each meme also opens up the idea of memes as representations in a Godelian system.

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