(enthy)memes

In Stephanie Vie’s In defense of “slacktivism,” she talks uses the theoretical framework of memetics.  Now, when I first heard about memes a few years ago (as in the rhetorical meme, meaning something that replicates itself using us like a movie quote, song, images, etc.), I couldn’t help but think of enthymemes.  An enthymeme is a line of logic where something is left out basically requiring the reader to put it in, it is a way to encourage the reader to actively participate when reading.

I’ve talked a lot about theory of mind, so here’s the enthymeme behind that:

  • Humans have a theory of mind
  • Autistic people do not have a theory of mind
  • (Enthymeme) Therefore, autistic people are not human

But what about memes (the picture) and enthymemes, are they related in any way?  When I first asked one of my professors, they said, “No, there’s no connection.”  However, I would like to spend the time exploring to see if I can forge a connection between the two.

So, a meme is a picture of something with words superimposed above and below it.  Usually it is humorous and it uses a particular genre based on the meme.  For example, a picture of Morpheus from The Matrix always reads “What if I told you” on the top and the new thing on the bottom.  Usually, the Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka picture is very sarcastic in tone.  Borimir from Lord of the Rings always reads “One does not simply” at the top followed by the new thing on the bottom.

So, in this way, the genre is the enthymeme.  It has a set of unstated rules where if you break them, it really doesn’t work.  And these rules are mostly arbitrary and incredibly cultural.  Therefore, many ELL students would be unable to understand it because it is an unstated rule.

I don’t really know what else to say because I don’t have any other thoughts about how enthymemes and memes relate.  I may revisit this at some point, but not until I have had enough time to really think about it.

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  1. Yes! It seems like another way they are related is how both rely on cultural assumptions/norms, arguments that do not have to be invented since they are already embedded in a culture. If you haven’t yet met Tom Ballard, another RPC student, I recommend you chat with him a bit about his meme research. He has a comprehensive bibliography on memes and knows a lot about them, especially connected to genre. You could also search “image macros” to learn more about how scholars have studied the types of memes you mention.

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