Memetic Rhetoric

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Memetic Rhetoric

“Memetic rhetoric” is the art of discourse through Memes. It is a form of communication composed and distributed through image-macro memes, to the end of informing or persuading a broad audience.


[edit] Rhetorical Devices in Memes

[edit] Heteroglossia

Mikhail Bakhtin describes two rhetorical concepts in novels that a modern audience can apply to memes. The first, Heteroglossia, is defined as the existence of distinct types of speech within a single text. Memes utilize this concept frequently in order to offer multiple discourses: often one through its associated image and one or more in its text. It is through the juxtaposition of these distinct discourses that memes deliver their message.

[edit] Carnivalesque

Another concept described in Bakhtin’s writings is the Carnivalesque. This literary device centers around the subversion of social norms through disorder and humor using positive connotations. Memes often play with hierarchical boundaries and social authoritative roles in their humor.

[edit] Ambient Affiliation

Furthermore, memes are generally reliant on a specific Ambient Affiliation in order for their rhetoric to be understood. Ambient Affiliation is an individual’s association with a culture or discourse community. Characteristics defining these communities may be: shared knowledge, common experiences, and particular value systems. In delivering their message, memes require these common backgrounds, and they do not cater to every individual; however, the success in meme propagation may depend on the width of the ambient it targets.


Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Discourse in the Novel." Formalisms. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 32-44. Print. Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Rabelais and His World.” Formalisms. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 45-51. Print. Zappavigna, Michele. "Internet Memes." The Discourse of Twitter and Social Media. London: Continuum International Pub. Group, 2012. N. pag. Print.

[edit] Ambient Affiliation

[edit] Defining

To have ambient affiliation is to consider oneself as part of a culture or discourse community. This refers to having an understanding of the unusual, distinctive aspects, of play on stereotypes, geography, and language, of the use of code, of shared knowledge, and class or identity in and of a community. For example, the “Keep Calm and X” meme series’s replication that utilizes a cultural reference to the Star Wars character Yoda: “Calm You Shall Keep and Carry On You Must, Yes, Hmmmm.”

This version of the meme series contains two main discourses: the British discourse and Yoda’s discourse. Elements of shared knowledge, play on language, and distinct aspects of a culture are at play in this meme. Through this shared knowledge viewers have ambient affiliation, which allows the viewers to understand and derive humor from the meme. Ultimately, ambient affiliation depends on an individual’s ability to understand and relate to the discourse community at work.

[edit] Understanding

Memes can be entertaining to individuals who belong to the ambient affiliation whose discourse is being used. However, memes can seem offensive or rude to others who do not identify with the same ambient affiliation; this is because within an ambient affiliation there can be multiple discourse communities. For example, the use of profanity may potentially take the humor out of the experience of a meme. The “Hipster Edits” meme series is a series of image-macro memes that are usually created to mock the “profound monologue” photos posted on social media. It is the knowledge of the hipster culture and understanding the mocking nature of this meme series that allows the humor to be understood. Shared knowledge within a discourse community allows the humor of a meme to surface.

[edit] Analyzing

The presence or lack of an ambient affiliation determines if and why an individual may find one replication of a meme funny but not another. Although within a single meme series there may be many replications that an individual may find humorous, ultimately that individual’s membership to a certain ambient affiliations plays a role in the meme’s reception.

[edit] Heteroglossia

[edit] Memetic Usage

Mikhail Bakhtin’s formalism defines heteroglossia as the “distinctive links and interrelationship between utterances and languages” (32). In accordance with Bakhtin’s definition, language is not unitary but blends multiple types, hailing from different socioeconomic levels, time periods, or contextual situations, into one product, “into a higher unity” (Bakhtin, 32). Within the popular twenty-first century internet phenomenon of memes, heteroglossia is apparent due to its nature of fusing different styles of communication, creating widespread popularity and appeal to multiple identifications. For example, in the Joseph Ducreux, aka Archaic Rap meme, readers initially read the text in a mock Old English wording. However, those familiar with the genre this meme represents understand the meaning behind these words (although written in a mock eighteenth century wording) to actually be quotes or catchphrases from pop-culture artifacts: songs, TV shows, or blockbuster movies. Those readers who are familiar with this genre will find comedy in the heteroglossia that can be found within this meme.

[edit] Understanding

Heteroglossia can be found in several genres of any type of literature. These motifs and genres draw lines within a phrase or word that create different understandings of that language based on the reader's familiarity with the genre or motif.


Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Discourse in the Novel." Formalisms. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 32-44. Print. Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Rabelais and His World.” Formalisms. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 45-51. Print.

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