The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture: Ideology, Semiotics, and Intertextuality, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture

Ideology, Semiotics, and Intertextuality, 1st Edition

By Bradley E. Wiggins


164 pages | 23 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2019-02-21
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Shared, posted, tweeted, commented upon, and discussed online as well as off-line, internet memes represent a new genre of online communication, and an understanding of their production, dissemination, and implications in the real world enables an improved ability to navigate digital culture. This book explores cases of cultural, economic, and political critique levied by the purposeful production and consumption of internet memes. Often images, animated GIFs, or videos are remixed in such a way to incorporate intertextual references, quite frequently to popular culture, alongside a joke or critique of some aspect of the human experience. Ideology, semiotics, and intertextuality coalesce in the book’s argument that internet memes represent a new form of meaning-making, and the rapidity by which they are produced and spread underscores their importance.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Dawkins Revisited

A Brief History of the Term Meme and its Function

Memes and Viral media

Bridging the Viral Divide

Memes as a Cultural Commodity

Memes and Culture

It Doesn’t Meme What You Think

Memes and Internet Memes

Memes and the Role of Remix

You Can’t Touch My Meme

Attention and Reproducibility

An Elaboration of Shifman’s Typology of Memetic Dimension

Applying the Elaboration of Shifman’s Model to Image-Based Memes


Chapter 2: The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture

Digital Culture

Older Fears and New Rationalities

The Power of Discourse

Discourse as Ideology


Ideology and Internet Memes


Semiotics and Internet Memes


Intertextuality and Internet Memes


Chapter Three: Memes as Genre

Artifacts of Digital Culture


Toward a Genre Development of Memes: Structuration Theory

Structures and Systems

Duality of Structure

Maintenance, Elaboration, Modification: A Genre Development of Memes

Spreadable media

Emergent meme

Internet meme

Distracted Boyfriend

TheMost Interesting Man in the World

Structuration in the Context of Memes

Concluding Discussion

Do All Memes Follow the Genre Development?



Chapter 4: Political Memes

Technological Affordances and Ideological Practice

International Research into Internet Memes

Jokerizing Obama: Appropriations of Meaning

Obama as Joker, Trump as Joker?

What Exactly is a Political Meme?

Spain (and Catalonia)

Gamifying Political Discourse

Tabarnia: The Parody Makes the Real

Russia: Strategic Relativism and the Politics of Eternity

Interference in 2016

Russia’s 2018 Election: Participatory Culture or Political Malaise?

Comparative Analysis

China, and the Question of Censoring Internet Memes

Crushing Criticism or Internet Sovereignty?

Elevation of the Semiotic: The China Dream

If You Don’t Like Reality, Change It


Chapter 5: Commercially-Motivated Strategic Messaging and Internet Memes

Commercial Usage of Memes and Copyright

Viral, by Design?

Where’s the Beef? Wendy’s Commercial as an Early Example Viral Media

The Role of Cool in Strategic Uses of Internet Memes

Numa Numa Guy and the Geico Lizard

Virgin Media, Vitamin Water, and the Success Kid

Delta Airline’s Internetest Safety Video

Concluding Discussion


Chapter 6: Audience

Audiences and the Reception of Content, Historically

Beyond Effects: Uses and Gratifications

Stuart Hall: Dominant, Negotiated, and Oppositional Decoding

Toward a Meme-centric Understanding of Audience

Media Narratives, Television, and Internet Memes

Postmodern Tendencies of Television and Internet Memes

Internet Memes and the Imagined Audience


Chapter 7: Identity

Essentialism and Constructivism

Temporality and Instability of Identity

The Babadook: Horror Movie Monster as a Gay Icon?

Resonance: Babadook, Facebook, and Identity

March for Our Lives: Aftermath of the Parkland School Shooting

Role of Metaphor: Procatoptric Staging

Making Sense of It All

Meme-ing Ourselves to Death?


Chapter 8: Internet Memes as a Form of…Art?

The Bizarre, Absurd, Cringeworthy, Ironic, etc. as Expressions of Disillusionment

Dada, Surrealism, and Internet Memes

Structural Similarities between Dada and Internet Memes

Marcel Duchamp and the readymade

Internet Memes and Literary Linkages: Neue Sachlichkeit

René Magritte and The Treachery of Images (or La trahison des images)

Introducing a neo-Dadaist Semiotic

America First, Netherlands Second: The Most Fantastic, Absolutely Tremendous Analysis, Really. It’s Great.

A Neo-Dadaist Semiotic in Image-Based Internet Memes

Analysis: Using the Elaboration of the Model

Concluding Discussion



About the Author

Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins is an associate professor and head of the media communications department at Webster Vienna Private University. His investigations of digital culture and discourse involve research on internet memes, social media, and fake news. Additional research includes game and simulation-based learning, intercultural and strategic communication.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture

This series is our home for innovative research in the field of digital media. It includes monographs and targeted edited collections that provide new insights into this subject as its influence and significance grow into the twenty-first century.


To submit a proposal for this series, please contact:
Suzanne Richardson, Commissioning Editor for Media, Cultural and Communication Studies

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
COMPUTERS / Social Aspects / General
COMPUTERS / Social Aspects / Human-Computer Interaction
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Communication Studies
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Popular Culture
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Media Studies