Friday, November 21, 2014

Summary Meme and Comparison

For this entry, I will be sharing a meme I have created that generally summarizes the messages and ideas presented by the meme sample and community I have been studying.

As stated in my first entry, I have noticed that the Atheist Meme Base community of Facebook regularly uses science to debunk or highlight contradictions in the Christian faith and in the Bible. I later narrowed my sample group down to memes that either pointed to contradictions in the Christian faith (in the Bible or in lived religion) or that use science to dispute Christian beliefs. I created this meme because it references the idea that Christianity ignores logic and science, which leads to it often contradicting these two areas. My meme also uses the forms of referential and phatic communication seen in my meme sample to provoke communication within their community and the outside world (basically, with any and all readers of the memes). This summary meme also highlights the irony of contradiction and uses this incongruity to create humor as demonstrated by the memes displayed by the Atheist Meme Base community.

The Atheist community no longer seems to be a group of people out to get Christians for the hell of it or for the enjoyment of the stress they cause Christians. Instead, I now see the point behind their arguments, as they are valid, scientific, and objective.
I have chosen to compare my meme sample and study to that of my classmate Alli R. While we were discussing our findings, we were both rather surprised to discover that our research had shown several similarities. Some of the easy-to-see similarities between our studies was their focus on Atheist communities who connect through a specific Facebook page. Further discussion showed the similarities that truly surprised us. We realized that both of our meme sample groups reference the contradictions in the lived religion of Christianity,  contradictions in the Bible, and the use of science to dispute parts of the Bible. We also noted that our memes use these contradictions to create humor. In other words, both sample groups fall into Shifman's humor category of incongruity.

 One of the differences we found between our communities was their background. While my Atheist Facebook page has virtually no background information, Alli's Atheist Facebook Page creator took the time to create a description as well as some of his ideas on the topic of religion. Because I do not have much of a foundation for the history and purpose of my community's page, I intend to use the similarities between our two studies to help support my final argument. I also intend to draw information on the Atheist community as a whole from the information provided by Alli's page creator.

Facebook Page
Alli's Blog

Thanks and Gig 'Em!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Virtual Features and a New Genre

This week, I will be answering the following questions:
1. What are the dominant features of memetic and viral culture employed by your meme sample? Discuss 2 or 3 of these traits. 
2. To what extent do my memes fit into one of the categories from chapter 7 of Shifman's Memes in Digital Culture
3. If I was to create a new genre related to my meme, what would it be? Title and define the genre. Describe how this communicates certain beliefs or assumptions about religion.

My memes employ the dominant viral features of prestige and provoking “high-arousal” emotions. Prestige “relates to the users’ knowledge about the content’s source” (Shifman, 67-70).  In other words, the content or meaning of the meme is connected to a well-known or famous person, event, or issue. The widespread knowledge of the person, event, or issue makes the meme easily understandable upon first sight. In my meme sample, prestige comes into play in the form of well-known stories, characters, and quotes from the Bible. The material is so well-known that people who do not follow the Christian faith, atheists for example, are still aware of these tales. This may explain why the community on the Atheist Meme Base Facebook page is able to share and understand memes that focus on the Christian religion.

My memes also employ the viral feature of provoking “high-arousal” emotions. The comments on some of the memes posted on the community’s Facebook page demonstrate this with written dialogue as seen on this meme of the PhilosoraptorPeople tend to react explosively when their beliefs are scrutinized or made fun of. Some commenters may start off by simply giving reasons behind why they believe the meme is incorrect, but after further debate, discussions become heated with the offended party typically growing more furious and aggressive. The defensive party may also become more furious and aggressive, but they could still be expected to be less serious about the debate because they are not the ones being offended or having to defend their beliefs. 
Sidenote: Because this concept is hard to support given my current material and resources, I could create a better argument by showing the following memes to various people and then documenting their discourse and reactions.

This meme finds its prestige by referencing the rather ironic issue of free will governed by God. The Bible seems to acknowledge that God has control of your free will in Proverbs 16:9
How can someone have free will if their actions have already been determined?

This meme references the 5th Commandment of the 10 Commandments which states: "Thou shalt not kill." Exodus 20:13. The 10 Commandments is arguably one of the most well-known areas of the Bible and can be seen in varying forms in public institutions as well. This meme gains its spreadability through the prestige it receives from being tied to such a famous excerpt of the Bible.

This meme gains its prestige from the ever controversial issue of slavery as it is presented in the Bible. Though the Bible is intended to teach Christians how to become saved and enter Heaven, there are several passages that speak of slavery and even condone the business of slavery. Examples can be found in 1 Kings 9:20-9:21 and Luke 12:47.

 When it comes to my meme sample fitting one of the genres from chapter 7 of Shifman’s book, a few of my memes fit the Stock Character Macro genre, due to their use of the Advice God and the Philosoraptor. Stock Character Macros use image macros and build “on a set of stock characters that represent stereotypical behaviors” (Shifman, 112). Both the Advice God and the Philosoraptor are based on the advice animal macro and their stock characters are associated with the particular stereotypes of a contradictory or “troll-like” god and an inquisitive philosopher, respectively.

However, the sample as a whole does not fit any of the predesignated categories.If I was to make a new genre, particularly for religious memes, that fits my meme sample, I would name the genre “Incongruity” based on Shifman’s subcategory of humor as described in my previous blog. In the concept of incongruity, humor is created through the presentation of a contradiction, pun, or other illogicality. My genre would be defined by memes that use contradiction to produce a comedic effect. The incongruity could be visual or textual. This new genre would present religion, its flaws, and its contradictions as laughable. Ironically, the genre would make religion seem a little less serious and a little more needing of objectivity.

My research paper will be completed in the next couple weeks! Thanks for joining me in this religious, objective, eye-opening experience!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Focusing on the Text

This week, I will be answering the following questions in reference to the text of my memes:
1. What common key symbols, shared ideas, and values or beliefs does your meme focus on?
2. What are the dominant forms of humor used in your memes?
3. How does this impact how religion and religious ideas/beliefs are framed?

My sample group uses communication as a ritual. In other words, the memes I am researching use communication as "the construction and representation of shared beliefs [and] highlights the shared values, symbols, and cultural sensibilities that embody what people see as their communities" (Shifman, p. 60). The memes have an intentional message for an intentional audience and are not concerned with the process of how it reaches the audience. Instead, we are concerned with how the memes interact with the audience. Hence, their representation of a community's beliefs, values, and symbols. The community found on the Atheist Meme Base Facebook page exhibits its values and beliefs through the memes they select for display on their page. These values appear to include objectivity, curiosity, skepticism, open-mindedness, logic, and humor. The community seems to be united by the belief that an individual should ask questions about the religion they follow, in this case Christianity, and seek answers with an objective and logical view. The key symbols of the community's communication can be seen in the pattern of rhetorical questions and the presentation of a religious concept that is disproven by science or is contradictory to an observation of lived religion. Further textual symbols include the highlighting of hypocrisy, the use of irony, and the provocation of further thought.

The dominant form of humor used in my memes is incongruity. Shifman defines incongruity as "comedy derive[d] from an unexpected cognitive encounter between two incongruent elements" (Shifman, p 79). This could also be defined as comedy derived from contradiction which fits this particular community very well given the fact that a majority of the memes highlight contradictions in Christianity.

The combination of the community's use of communication as a ritual and incongruity allows the memes to frame Christianity as a religion of contradiction while calling into question the reasoning behind adhering to such a flawed systems of beliefs. The religion is further framed as laughable, which lends support to the idea of Christianity as inaccurate and unreliable as a basis for life.

This meme uses a rhetorical question in order to provoke further thought while simultaneously, though somewhat underhandedly, using science to contradict a religious belief. The text references that, according to Genesis 1, God created the Sun on the 4th of his 7 days of labor. However, science has defined a day as the 24 hour period it takes to the earth to rotate 360 degrees on its access while orbiting the Sun. So, scientifically, without a Sun, a day could not occur nor pass. The meme uses an objective, logical, and scientific view to refute this concept of the passing of days without the Sun. The humor of the meme arises from the incongruity or contradiction between the Christian belief that a day could pass without the Sun and the scientific evidence that shows the vitality of the Sun to the process of passing the day.

This meme refers to the story of the beginning of mankind in which the Bible states the existence of Adam, Eve, and their two sons, Cain and Abel. Being the first people to exist, they are tasked with populating the Earth. Due to our current existence, this task was somehow completed but in a manner that contradicts science. Since Cain and Abel were both male, and there were no other families on the planet from whom they could find a woman to reproduce with, how did mankind continue? It is scientifically impossible for mankind to reproduce without a female.
This meme again displays the community's values of objectivity and logic while drawing attention to another religious concept that is disproven by scientific evidence. As with the previous meme, the conceptual contradiction between this religious story and science creates a humorous air about the message that is being communicated.

The creation of humor through incongruity is quite forwardly displayed in this meme. The term "unconditional" literally means "without conditions," but the second line of the text says "with conditions." This is a blatant contradiction of terms. This clear hypocrisy is highlighted in the lived religion and text of Christianity. Though God says he will love everyone unconditionally, he does so only under the conditions that you believe that his son, Jesus Christ, died for your sins and you must accept him as your savior. This contradiction can be seen in lived religion when you apply the belief that, as a Christian, you are required to love everyone equally, but many can still be seen/heard passing judgement and discriminating against non-Christians.

In other news,  I am still working on contacting the creator of the Atheist Meme Base Facebook page, but I intend to make up for the lack of creator input by interviewing individuals who associate with Atheism. 

*Please ignore the highlighting. They are the result of technical difficulties. 

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lived Religion on Atheist Meme Base

In this segment, I will be focusing on answering the following questions:
1.) What are the common visual and creative techniques seen in my sample? In other words, what are the common characteristics of content and stance?
2.) How do the common characteristics of content and stance impact how the memes communicate their message about religion?

Throughout my sample, I have noticed that the memes communicate using repackaging and imitation or obvious visual reference to Christianity. Repackaging and imitation is the re-telling of a joke or message with a slight alteration of a recognized form (Shifman, p 19). By "obvious visual reference to Christianity," I mean that something in the image tells you that the subject is Christianity before you read the text. When one reads the text of these memes, the stance of the creator on the religion of Christianity becomes visible. All 12 of the memes in my sample group focus on the contradictions of Christian beliefs to science, contradictions between different Bible verses, or contradictions between these Christian beliefs and the lived religion* of its followers. The memes seem to be sarcastic and ironic while focusing on the use of referential and phatic communication. Referential communication is oriented toward the context or the "outside world," while phatic communication "serves to establish, prolong, or discontinue communication" (Shifman, 41). The use of these two forms of communication points to the intention of invoking a reaction or discourse among those who read the memes. I believe that the sarcasm and irony of the text is intentional in order to help the reader remember what is being said, while the use of referential and phatic communication is meant to encourage the reader into thinking for themselves instead of blindly following what they have been taught.

*For the purpose of this research, lived religion is defined as the phenomena in which "language and images of the sacred become definitional tools to redefine contemporary life" (Heidi Campbell lecture, 30OCT14). I like to think of lived religion as how the everyday follower chooses to express their beliefs on a daily basis through action, attire, and text or spoken word.

In this meme, one may first recognize the background which originated in the advice animal memes. One may go on to notice the placement of God's head in the middle of the image, the usual position for the head of an advice animal. The name, the Advice God, is even an imitation of the Advice Animal title. For these reasons, this meme can be defined as a product of repackaging and imitation. The text points to the directions from God given in Exodus 31:15. The phrasing "or something" gives a hint of sarcasm to the meme while using the text to point out the irony of another Christian contradiction. The meme implies the question, "if God is really who Christians and the Bible say he is, why would he lie?"

This meme does not use the repackaging method, but instead chooses to use an image in which one can see the religious symbols. These images include the Bible in the man's hand and the worship area behind the man that is complete with the classic stained glass often seen in churches.The text is written as if the man has had a sudden epiphany about the faith he believes in. The man seems to have begun to slightly question his faith, which can easily lead to thinking for himself or the metaphorical opening of his eyes. Irony is again used to highlight the man's skin color and the topic of slavery as viewed in the bible. Irony also draws attention to the problem of supporting the words of the Bible without objectively studying them. Why would someone support the enslavement of their ethnic or cultural group? Why is it ok to discriminate against one group but not another? This ironic meme could quite easily provoke discourse within the reader's community.

 This meme also does not use the repackaging and imitation method. Instead, it uses an image from which one can easily determine that the focus is on Christianity due to the front-and-center placement of the Bible. However, it is a little clearer from the image that the point is hilarity or sarcasm than what can be seen in the images of the other sample memes. This meme allows the image to do more of the "talking" instead of using words to portray the sarcasm. The irony is still found in the contradiction of the two verses placed at the top and bottom of the image. The meme draws attention to a contradiction in the sacred text of  Christians in the expected sarcastic way.

The study of these memes has led to my conclusion of the Atheist Meme Base community's view of Christianity as that of a joke in the sense that it cannot truly be believed. The community also appears to use the memes to highlight their belief in the need to think before choosing to simply follow as well as to encourage inquisitive discourse. However, they use sarcasm and irony instead of direct accusation. This may be due to the idea that people will be less offended or more willing to listen if the content is displayed in a laughable manner.

Note: I have decided to add the second meme into my sample group, and I have removed one that no longer fits my criteria.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Change of Mind and Narrowing of Control Group

From Last Week:
After further discussing the memes I have chosen to focus on for this study, I have realized that these particular memes are actually religious memes. I formerly considered them to be memes about religion because of their focus on Christianity, and also because I am unsure about the designation of Atheism as a religion. There is definitely debate about this designation, but I have decided that the memes on the Atheist Meme Base Facebook page and coinciding website are religious memes. Religious memes are memes that reflect the ideas and thoughts of a specific religious group. Though Atheism may not consistently be considered a religion, the members of this Facebook page are brought together by their shared views on religion or lack of a faith-based religion. Some may even argue that the religion of Atheists is science.

This Week:
In an effort to focus my research on a particular sample group, I have narrowed down my collection to only memes that either point to contradictions in the Christian faith (in the Bible or in lived religion) or that use science to dispute Christian beliefs. In order to gather a better collection of memes, I have decided to use both the Atheist Meme Base Facebook page and website, as they share the same material. However, I intend to focus more so on the Facebook page due to its ability to contact Atheists and read their comments on images.

After looking for a section of the website and Facebook pages that explains the origination of the posted memes, I have found nothing. There appears to be no singular creator, but I still may be able to find some answers. I have sent a message through the Facebook page and am now awaiting a response. So far, I believe the page and website are meant to spread knowledge of the flaws of religion, mostly Christianity, through humor. I also think the page itself serves as an online community where people can connect with others who share their idea of Atheism. I am hoping to have more background information to share next week.
As one would expect, the focus on flaws/criticism and humor dictate the memes seen on the pages. The memes are typically laughable to the Atheist audience and poke fun at the holes in Christian belief. They are then often circulated by members of the community or by other Atheist community pages through Facebook's "share" button.
The common themes expressed on the Facebook page appear to be the lack of scientific evidence for/scientific contradictions to certain Christian beliefs, the contradictions written within the Bible, and the irony between lived Christian religion and the sacred text.

Contradiction to Scientific Evidence:
Noah's Ark is a generally well-known part of the Bible in which Noah, a follower of God, builds an Ark to house his family of 4 and 2 of each species of animal on Earth during the Flood. The measurements, as given in the Bible have been converted to modern day measurements and the number of species existing at the time have been determined through science and evolution. The result points to the lack of space each animal would have if the measurements given were to be believed.
 Contradictions in the Bible :
This meme draws attention to the 7th Commandment which states: "Thou shall not commit adultery." However, according to the Bible, Jesus was born of Mary, a virgin and wife to Joseph. Therefore, God impregnated a married woman and directly disobeyed his own commandment. Christians believe that Jesus was conceived through immaculate conception, which means God technically did not contradict himself, but science has proven that the only way to impregnate a woman involves direct sexual intercourse.

 Contradictions between Lived Religion and the Bible:
As seen in the quote above, the Bible acknowledges money as "evil."Ironically, churches take in money under the terms of donations and tithes, but are not required to pay taxes. Sometimes the leaders of these churches, such as Joel Osteen, become millionaires. Sadly, while he sits in his 10.5 million dollar home, the poor still roam the streets. His hoarding of money, instead of helping those in need further contradictions Luke 12:33: Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. 

The following are the links to all 12 memes I will be using for this study.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Introduction to Atheist Meme Base

After recognizing several memes in which science is used to refute Christian beliefs, I began to find some of the points interesting. I continued to search for similar memes, and I realized that the Atheist community regularly uses science in its debates with Christians. Atheists tend to use science to debunk or highlight contradictions in the Christian faith and in the Bible. For this reason, I have chosen to study a Facebook community by the name of Atheist Meme Base. The memes feature various characters and concepts, ranging from Philosoraptor to images of God and from homosexuality to ethics. These memes are not religious memes; instead, they are memes about religion due to their use as a form of critique. I have decided to study this Facebook community because it ties together two concepts I am not largely familiar with, atheism and science. I also chose it because I am curious as to whether or not their observations may actually hold some sliver of truth. Are these references truly contradictions? Are they actually addressed in the Bible? Has science directly proven certain parts of the Christian belief to be false? What parts seem to be "common sense" or part of our fundamental ethics as humans?

The Atheist Meme Base Facebook page was launched in March of 2012. This is the same month in which began its archive, though the website was copyrighted in 2008. The meme base also has a twitter feed and Google+ page. The Facebook page often uses links to these pages to share memes. Because of this, my citations will come from the Facebook page and its sister websites. As of yet, I have been unable to find the creator of these pages or the specific reason behind their creation.