What You Can Expect:
As a group, we will be examining the phenomena known as the Internet meme. We’ll look at what exactly a meme is, and discuss its importance and role in our rapidly evolving digital society. Specifically, we will examine representations, poetics, and politics found in Internet memes. Representation, in a very broad sense, deals with what is being depicted; poetics deals with how and why memes look and say the things they do; politics will deal with how memes affect a person’s everyday life. From another angle, we will look at memes from the viewer’s perspective, the creator’s perspective, and the society’s perspective. This is the type of focus group where you may hear someone quote Foucault and a lolcat caption in the same sentence.
During the first half of the quarter, we will deal with representation and poetics, while the last half will deal with the politics of memes and why it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening on the Internet. We will take a classic CHID interdisciplinary approach, pulling from multiple fields and looking at both specific parts and holistic systems. And lots and lots of funny YouTube videos.
Because this is such a new topic of interest in terms of academic research, there are no specific theories to learn or books to read or vocabulary to memorize — we will be writing the theories, the books, and the vocabulary. In other words, we will not just passively absorb knowledge someone else created; we will be creating and distributing our own knowledge. Hopefully, this focus group will be an empowering experience for the student.
However, the caveat is that knowledge creation is a responsibility, and it is work. I will try to keep the workload reasonable (and if you feel I am overburdening everyone with work disproportional to a two credit pass/fail class, please let me know!), but understand there will be some work involved, whether it is reading, creating, or even just thinking and discussing.
Using the Internet:
Prior knowledge or Internet savvy is not required for this focus group (in fact, if this describes you, you will contribute a valuable perspective to the discussion and I hope you will stick around). However, with that said, you will be required to use the Internet on a regular basis if you want to participate fully. If you need help or additional resources (from just help navigating a website to needing the necessary hardware like a laptop), please come talk to me. The University of Washington has many resources for students when it comes to accessing technology.
Students will be required to create a Reddit account for this class. For the uninitiated, Reddit is a user-submitted content aggregation website, a fancy phrase for a website where people submit links and other people vote on them. Reddit is actually a massive constellation of loosely related websites called subreddits, which can be created by anyone, run by volunteer moderators, and often based off of a topic of interest. We will be using Reddit as a platform for communicating in this class because it is both easy (once you figure out how to use it) and relevant to the subject. Reddit has been on the news as of late for both good and ill; it seems hardly appropriate to have a focus group on memes and not involve Reddit.
We will be using our own subreddit for class content which I have set up. I will post any readings, homework assignments, news, etc., on this subreddit. Work for the focus group will also be submitted to this subreddit. At the moment, the subreddit will be private and closed, so you must submit your account to be approved. Once the focus group has started, we will decide as a group whether or not we want the subreddit to go public.
We will also visit other websites that revolve around memes, and also use some of them to make our own memes (yes, you will be asked to make memes for homework). I am also playing with the idea of starting a class Tumblr, if it seems important or necessary. Again, if you need help navigating these websites, please ask me for help. I understand that at first glance, these websites and their associated cultures can appear incredibly incoherent.
A Brief Warning:
Because we are dealing with the Internet as a topic, we will on occasion discuss some of the more unsavory aspects of society and human life in both the actual and the digital worlds. Please be aware of this if you are sensitive towards difficult topics, and I will try to give as much advance as possible before we tackle them. Conversely, even if this is a focus group on the Internet, do not expect to come for two hours a week and just make cat jokes. Any offensive, demeaning, derogative, or hateful speech, action, or link in our class subreddit or during our discussions is absolutely intolerable. We are studying the Internet, but this does not give you license to be a troll or worse. Be sensitive to other perspectives, viewpoints, lifestyles, or life experiences. While I hope to direct the focus group in a way that is fun, entertaining, productive, and relevant, we will be dealing with some serious business, both academically and also just as human beings. Please come prepared.
Be warned that the Internet can be crippling to productivity in your life. Steel yourself — this focus group is not responsible for any GPAs plummeting this quarter because you spent too much time watching Gangnam Style parodies on the Internet. Please consume the Internet with moderation and prudence.
Every week, we will work on a leading question that will hopefully prime us for a good discussion on the topic for the next time we meet. You will not have to submit any papers or responses in the classical university sense. All participants for the focus group will respond to each leading question with a meme, which will be submitted as a link to the class subreddit. We are all responsible for viewing the memes we produce as a group, and bringing them up during discussion (on or off campus) is encouraged.
You can leave (polite) comments on each submission, and while this is encouraged, it will not be required. However, I want to stress that the more involved we all are, the better the quality of our discussions will be. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment with what is often considered “bad” punctuation, spelling, or grammar. We will be studying and communicating in a different literacy — what could be considered “internet literacy” — so the old rules of proper English don’t apply. However, understand that writing comments that are incomprehensible, poorly thought out or just plain hard to get will make you look somewhat silly. We may talk differently on the Internet, but we still need to understand each other.
In addition, each participant will be required to help facilitate a discussion at least once during the quarter. This can be done in two ways; (1) the traditional way, in which a student presents for 10-15 minutes during one of the times we meet on campus, or (2) an “AMA” like format on our class subreddit online, which I will demonstrate during the quarter so that we all know what to expect. This will be done in the second half of the quarter.
Hopefully, this shouldn’t be overwhelming (since we all have other classes that require much more of our time), so if you can complete these assignments, you should expect to pass with flying colors (and two university credits). If you’re having trouble fulfilling the assignments in any way, please let me know and we will try to work something out.
tl;dr — Show up, participate, be respectful, and you’ll do just fine.