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Journalism

Memes, culture and the Tommy Mule Parallel.

I remember sitting in my livingroom, playing Atari 2600 video games against my father, while having a running conversation with everyone else in the room. He couldn’t do both things at once and was astonished with the ease with which my sister and I both could. Whipped his ass, too.

And I recall this image in part because, on what seems like a regular basis, we get clueless eyebrow knitters such as this one posted to Poynter:

No matter how the tactic hits, political reporters and commentators are covering every wrinkle, chasing a wild trajectory of phrases that would have previously gone unnoticed. Some of these memes don’t even begin as substantive critiques before they take off. I asked De Souza, via Tumblr, why the phrase “binders full of women” energized her in that minute after it left Romney’s mouth. Isn’t seeking out and hiring female candidates a good thing? “I would say he hired those women to fill a quota,” De Souza replied. “Politicians are all about status (especially if they’re running for president) so a cabinet full of women looks good for him.”

And further:

I blame journalists like myself for beating the binders to death. Even when we’re not consciously gunning for SEO dominance, the way we report today — glued to Twitter, absorbing and articulating snap judgments simultaneously — makes it increasingly likely that we’ll sweat the small stuff.

So on the one had, journalists are constantly scratching around for every new wrinkle in the Internet culture. But on the other hand, journalists are to blame for making these memes possible and popular. I guess it takes two hands to wring them together.

Seriously, STFU

Note: its ok to laugh, there’s no way you’ll remember this thing an hour from now.

See that funny LOLcat over there? Now look away for a second and go back to it. You see what happened? It instantly got less funny.

Because its a fucking joke, people. It is not a declaration of some deep seeded cultural fury or a rising sentiment among “my kind.” Its a joke that lasts in the moment and goes away immediately after that.

This is what I’m calling – for the purposes of the current discussion – the Tommy Mule Parallel. Tommy is a personality on 96.5 WCMF’s Break Room morning show and probably the deliverer of more jokes per minute on the show than most anybody else. They talk about whatever’s going on and he comments as they go. He’s generally pretty goddamned funny, but that’s not to say that, listening back a week later, you’d laugh. Neither would you suppose that someone from Cleveland would laugh at stuff about Rochester. That’s because the context is all wrong.

We could certainly, if we wanted to, transcribe Tommy’s every sentence to superimpose that sentence over a picture of a wacky-looking cat. And that would probably be funny to anybody listening to The Break Room that day. Nobody else.

But leave it to a journalist to ask, “why is that funny?” And expect an answer, too!

Memes on the Internet are pretty much the same thing: passing fancies of people having fun together. They’re certainly funny, but they have a shelf-life. And a context, outside of which, they’re just not funny. On a social Internet, anybody with quick enough skills on one graphic design program or another can create a bit of humor in the moment. They can be this half-hour’s “local” hero. As a person who is a frequent flier on Twitter and Facebook, I guess I’m accustomed to seeing these things fly by and not even bothering to think about what they mean.

Sometimes, I laugh. Sometimes, I don’t. You had to be there. Next.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.