EMBODIED MEANING & COMPREHENDING A CONTEXT

The video parodies of the German film ”The Downfall” have become an internet phenomenon. Only under the ”Secret powers of time” could these events happen.  The mash-ups and photocollages of this film and reveals how pleasurable the re-organizing and re-contextualizing of images can be, especially for a specific digital subculture. The mash-up of Hitler’s outburst from ”Downfall” , with subtitles conveys various quotidian disappointments and deceptions from Indian call centers, the Dallas Cowboys getting rubbed out of the playoffs or the i-pad failing to live up to its hype. The decision by that film’s producers to pull all those clips from YouTube may have been a poor calculation since the this form of participatory videocollage was excellent advertising for a film which otherwise would have flopped in North America. Also, most of these mash-ups were quite brilliant; in each case contrasting silly everyday life with a profound and far reaching historical event. It was a grand joke about the superficiality of our own time. Its altered art within a digital video context.

John Heatfield:1943  This piece refers to a remark made by Galileo when he was forced to deny his belief that the Earth moved around the sun. Upon his release from the Inquisition, he stamped the Earth with his foot and said, "And yet it moves." This image shows that despite Hitler's terror, the world survived.

John Heatfield:1943 This piece refers to a remark made by Galileo when he was forced to deny his belief that the Earth moved around the sun. Upon his release from the Inquisition, he stamped the Earth with his foot and said, "And yet it moves." This image shows that despite Hitler's terror, the world survived.

Mash-ups, or the original series of  productions ability to attract them, is a marketing strategy in itself. A great example is the ”What if ‘history’ hadn’t been made” Young and Rubicam pitched ( slapshotted?) to the National Hockey League for its just concluded 2010 playoffs. The lead clip was Bobby Orr’s iconic 1970 Stanley-Cup clinching goal, played in reverse , and a question: ”What if Bobby Didn’t fly?” The campaign has been lights-out with fans turning the concept into a ”memes”. that is,  that spreadability adds value to an idea by allowing the idea to inhabit different contexts. Within days of its release hundreds of parody and tribute ads had been produced and posted, cherishing or lampooning moments in their favorite team’s respective histories. A new aesthetic has been created where ”home inventors” can turn a series of simple ads into reams of free advertising for the league on-line. But, the reverse side is BP which sees their ads parodied in a humiliating and detrimental manner.

www.towson.edu .John Heartfield ''July 17, 1932 This piece was used as an anti-Hitler poster in the 1932 election. It refers to the financial backing Hitler received from wealthy industrialists who feared Germany would vote for a Communist government.''

www.towson.edu .John Heartfield ''July 17, 1932 This piece was used as an anti-Hitler poster in the 1932 election. It refers to the financial backing Hitler received from wealthy industrialists who feared Germany would vote for a Communist government.''

” And given their simplicity, the NHL seized on an opportunity to crank out new spots to reflect the playoffs as they progressed, often featuring the pivotal moments of games that had ended just hours earlier. Almost overnight, the campaign went from postcards from hockey’s past to a living record of one of the most exciting playoffs in recent history. The sports’ emerging icons, such as Philadelphia’s Mike Richards or Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak, soon had their heroics immortalized alongside those of Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Clarke.

''What if tv. ads. ''What if Bobby didn't fly'' Bobby Orr. 1970

''What if tv. ads. ''What if Bobby didn't fly'' Bobby Orr. 1970

“We wanted to capture the emotion of that (star player) jumping into the glass and raising the fans,” Jennings said, “or the second- or third-tier guy that doesn’t have that iconic status, but what he did that night, and in that game, and in that shift, very much was so.”The ingenuity of fans is always going to be exponentially more interesting than anything that an ad agency makes for the NHL,” Wyshynski said. “I think that the NHL is starting to learn the more you involve fans on a viral level, and give them a chance to create their own thing, then the whole thing just becomes much more successful.” ( Mike Barber

BOSTON, MA. - 1970's: Rick Martin #7 of the Buffalo Sabres skates past Bobby Orr #4 of the Boston Bruins at the Boston

BOSTON, MA. - 1970's: Rick Martin #7 of the Buffalo Sabres skates past Bobby Orr #4 of the Boston Bruins at the Boston

Rather than emphasizing the direct replication of “memes,” a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use.”Memes are the mechanism, and examining the idea of a ”meme” : a unit of cultural information. Henry Jenkins and the some of the basic from ”If it Doesn’t Spread Its Dead”

”Use of the terms “viral” and “memes” by those in the marketing, advertising and media industries may be creating more confusion than clarity. Both these terms rely on a biological metaphor to explain the way media content moves through cultures, a metaphor that confuses the actual power relations between producers, properties, brands, and consumers. Definitions of ‘viral’ media suffer from being both too limiting and too all-encompassing. The term has ‘viral’ has been used to describe so many related but ultimately distinct practices — ranging from Word-of-Mouth marketing to video mash-ups and remixes posted to YouTube — that just what counts as viral is unclear. It is invoked in discussions about buzz marketing and building brand recognition while also popping up in discussions about guerilla marketing, exploiting social networks, and mobilizing consumers and distributors. Needless, the concept of viral distribution is useful for understanding the emergence of a spreadable media landscape. Ultimately, however, viral media is a flawed way to think about distributing content through informal or adhoc networks of consumers.

''A 1935 photomontage by John Heartfield depicts a Nazi knife spreading a screaming Jew across a piece of bread, turning his body into butter. The headline describes the image as a recipe of Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.  As might be expected, Heartfield's work got him into serious trouble with the Nazis. In April 1933, Heartfield narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo. The artist, who was only slightly taller than 5 feet, climbed out of his apartment window and hid inside a scrapped barbershop sign on a neighbor's ground-floor patio,...''

''A 1935 photomontage by John Heartfield depicts a Nazi knife spreading a screaming Jew across a piece of bread, turning his body into butter. The headline describes the image as a recipe of Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. As might be expected, Heartfield's work got him into serious trouble with the Nazis. In April 1933, Heartfield narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo. The artist, who was only slightly taller than 5 feet, climbed out of his apartment window an

d inside a scrapped barbershop sign on a neighbor's ground-floor patio,...''

Talking about memes and viral media places an emphasis on the replication of the original idea, which fails to consider the everyday reality of communication — that ideas get transformed, repurposed, or distorted as they pass from hand to hand, a process which has been accelerated as we move into network culture. Arguably, those ideas which survive are those which can be most easily appropriated and reworked by a range of different communities. In focusing on the involuntary transmission of ideas by unaware consumers, these models allow advertisers and media producers to hold onto an inflated sense of their own power to shape the communication process, even as unruly behavior by consumers becomes a source of great anxiety within the media industry. ”

BP parody

BP parody

Now that we have established that the sequence of videos based on Der Untergang ( the Downfall by Oliver Hirschbiegel ) holds meaning for a specific digital subculture, what value does it possess? There is a difference between meaning and value, because to the latter I attribute a sense of beneficial worth. People can associate with Internet memes, but what can they derive from them?
MIT Media Lab professor Judith Donath (Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication) explains that these small and subtle subcultural references and jokes, in memetic fashion, create structural meaning beyond the simple meaning that one video or picture might hold. Primarily, she uses examples from the LOLcat phenomenon, which are various pictures of cats with short captions attached to each photo. While the picture-phrase combinations can vary, a handful of these combinations rely on a certain grammar to connote meaning ; the repetition of specific phrasings that in themselves are smaller memes in the LOLcat meme universe. Anil Dash, in his article, Cats Can Has Grammar, points out a few of these:

With “I’m in ur X, Ying your Z” and “Invisible X,” as Judith explains, each of these jokes becomes a phrase with embodied meaning. It is a structure through which we can understand not just a joke but also a way of comprehending a context. For example, a common image macro (the form of a LOLcat) is the “You’re Doing It Wrong”:

The image with the phrase is a joke in itself, but it also contains a structural meaning of an ironic situation that appears to be correct from another (albeit incorrect) perspective.

The image with the phrase is a joke in itself, but it also contains a structural meaning of an ironic situation that appears to be correct from another (albeit incorrect) perspective.

So in essence the structural meaning of the meme is pushed to another level, evolving as it may into different and uncharted iterations. In the anti-gay protest image below, the creator gives value to the You’re Doing It Wrong structure. And our understanding of the image is mediated by the meme: while the protesters believe that they are correct, the author illustrates a particular political statement against their beliefs. The technique is not dissimilar from early rap music and its use of ”sampling” that altered the structure and context of the initial sampled piece. An example is the Beastie Boys ”Paul’s Boutique” before copyright laws closed many of the sampling loopholes.

convergenceculture.org

convergenceculture.org

Now, while the subcultural joke is still present, the meme provides another way of approaching the picture’s context, though perhaps not for people outside of the subculture. This meme increases our understanding, and  appreciation of the political statement for this picture now that the meme is applied to a new and different context.

The Hitler memes from the Downfall offers a  simple, strightforward narrative structure that introduces a problem and illustrates its embellished reaction which are(helped in particular by the exaggerated body language and facial expressions. Each Hitler Meme video establishes a problem with a usually hilarious tirade about a sometimes banal; occasionally significant crisis. Regardless of the quality of the issue at stake, the Hitler Meme presents a joke, a basic meaning, whose structure dictates further meaning when applied to multiple contexts.

Again, its a very ambiguous point whether people portraying Nazis makes good satire, and many can have a visceral repulsion to the humor, or lack of it from their perspective. In these cases, the video’s content is questioned. However, the video-as-meme lends particular emphasis to the situation. Yes, the video parodies are certainly humorous because of the exaggerations and incongruities,  yet the heightened reactions that are fairly appropriate, given the power of the iconography;  despite the existence of a large teck-savvy subculture, most of whom would understand the memetic reference and appreciate the criticism of this form of expression.

Memes tend to be jokes, first, but they represent a valuable example of networked knowledge online. Although most memes do not escape the subcultural barriers of small Internet communities, a few do make an impact on the real world. Of course, many Internet memes are simply humor. But the evolutionary structure of some memes create a strong cultural value that acts as a grammar for information networks.

Unofficial NHL Tribute:

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