Internet Meme Culture: Affective Response and Political Indoctrination
In this dissertation, “Internet Meme Culture: Affective Response and Political Indoctrination,” I examine the affective power of internet memes. As there was no pre-existing theoretical framework by which to analyze internet memes, I use a combination of literary theory, art history, and image theory, as well as performance studies to create a framework which I then used to analyze both internet memes and the ways in which people were responding to these memes, both on and offline. Internet memes often interpolate people into greater cultural memes, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Internet memes are often encoded with certain information, ideas, and ideologies, and yet are frequently decoded by those who view into them completely different messages. This is due to the interpretive communities and reading strategies of each individual host as well as to the affective power of internet memes, which value emotional responses over intellectual ones and enable the spread of false information just as readily as accurate information. The success of an internet meme has nothing to do with the relevance or factuality of the information contained therein but is based entirely on the affective response it generates within a host—that is, someone who interprets, appropriates, and redistributes it. Given the unpredictable nature of affect, these responses can be hard to quantify, understand, or even identify, and are often only recognized through the actions they produce within a person, further complicating the process. Social media provide a stage for acting out social drama (breach, crisis, and redress, as outlined by Victor Turner) similar to both traditional theater and the real world, and internet memes are a means of enacting the first two stages of social drama. However, when enacted online, these social dramas are unable to reach the third and final stage—the redress. Unlike the theater, internet meme culture is not a vehicle of transformation. Whether through social activism meant to change the system or through radicalization meant to overthrow the system, no lasting change can be made through internet meme culture.