Crowdsourcing Ben Wetherbee’s article on Memes, Topoi, and Politic Rhetoric

Here, we’ll continue the discussion we began in class today about Wetherbee’s article, “Picking Up the Fragments of the 2012 Election: Memes, Topoi, and Political Rhetoric.”

This is a challenging article (on many levels), so let’s first tackle what the article is actually saying by crowdsourcing his main claims (thesis, points, evidence in support of those points) here. Then we can also unpack them, asking clarifying questions, complicating them, challenging then with provocations and counter-arguments, etc.

Don’t forget to include citations in MLA format when you refer to the text.

11 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Ben Wetherbee’s article on Memes, Topoi, and Politic Rhetoric

  1. “[. . .] I will suggest that the more a fragment like ‘binders’ replicates and evolves, the further it carries popular memory away from its textual origin. When that origin is a major political event, there are repercussions; [. . .]” (6).

    This section stood out to me because it shows how memes, even while replicated particular content, can cause some type of distance (and potentially devaluing, or desensitization?) to important political (social, ethical, moral, legal, etc.) contexts. See also top of page 6.

  2. ” Ideologies, by this theory, function as the linked sets of beliefs, values, assumptions, and cultural knowledge within which a topos can meaningfully mobilize rhetoric.4 Verbal topoi like “liberty,” “justice,” and “equality,” for instance, are meaningful to Americans on the left and right alike, though these words mean different things to different Americans because they connect to very different points on overlapping but incongruent ideological matrices. ” (pg 3)

    This shows how our view points are interpreted and formed based on the society we live in, values we are raised upon, and the knowledge we form around a topic and how that in turn creates the manner by which we interpret that said topic.

  3. Dawkins defines the meme as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation” that functions analogically but not literally like a self-replicating gene; examples he provides are “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches” (192, emphasis in original)”(2)

    Our culture is mostly based on imitation, we are in a popularity contest.

    “Memes inevitably propel culture as topoi propel argument. I’m not saying we should (or even can) avoid either in our scholarship, but we should recognize, as Blackmore warns, that we are, in a sense, the sum of our memes. We shouldn’t get too comfortable with that identity.”(7)

    We are a reflection of our memes and in turn we become our memes.

  4. “In Barthes’s terms, ‘binders’ gained traction because of its connotative density; it became a ‘place’ one could go to economically summon these connotations and rebuke Romney for his familiar flaws” (4).

    This discussion here suggests how memes, which are quite simple (“nuggets,” in Wetherbee’s argument) can actually stand in for a whole range of associations, which evolve as they circulate.

  5. “Individual rhetors will struggle especially to deliberately coin successful internet memes. As in “binders” the most successful internet memes typically work against the intentions of the memes original author”

    As a whole I agree with this claim though I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad thing for the meme to move from one context to another. Unless the author meant to send a powerful message or idea and its made a mockery of then altering the meme to different cultures or social happenings is natural to the generation we live in. We are used to taking something and remixing it to reflect our personality.

  6. “Put another way, memes compel us to reexamine the moving parts of the rhetorical situation. Juxtaposing topoi and memes reminds us that no topos ever “always was”: topoi are born and evolve; they adapt to new cultural-ideological contexts; and as they evolve, they help reshape those same contexts” (Wetherbee 4).

    Undoubtly, there is evidence to support this claim as society continues to move into different cultural norms and actions, topos evolve but succeed in generating the same context of rhetoric.

  7. “I don’t mean to bemoan our digital-postmodern condition, but I will suggest that the more a fragment like “binders” replicates and evolves, the further it carries popular memory away from its textual origin. When that origin is a major political event, there are repercussions; when voters assess an election based on which candidate has won the “meme war,” some ability to rationally deliberate based on two candidates’ many arguments goes by the wayside (Wetherbee 6).

    “‘When such a fragment, in turn, widely circulates, it creates a context of repetition: the “binders” topos emerged from the context of the second 2012 debate, but reiterations of that meme grew to contextualize further reiterations, perhaps to the point where the sheer profusion of “binders” memes pulled more rhetorical weight than the debate itself” (Wetherbee 6).

    In both quotes Wetherbee is hinting at the demise of an ethical political stance in social media. How will this affect the 2016 election?

  8. Put another way, memes compel us to reexamine the moving parts of the rhetorical situation. Juxtaposing topoi and memes reminds us that no topos ever “always was”: topoi are born and evolve; they adapt to new cultural-ideological contexts; and as they evolve, they help reshape those same contexts (Wetherbee 3).

    This points to the idea that memes constantly change and evolve. It has moving parts and even topoi which was thought to be more constant may not be as it was initially. There are parameters to move in that allow flexibility within a certain space.

  9. ” …humor itself comprises a set of commonplaces among casual Internet users, who are disproportionately young and privy to a number of “in-jokes” specific to online discourse. Indeed, “Internet meme” is not just a popular phrase for describing web humor, but a genre notable for (1) reliance of irreverent, parodic humor, (2) unequaled potential for rapid circulation and replication across social media (seen, for instance, in the explosion “binders” across my Facebook feed on debate night), and (3) multimodal composition for digital consumption. I have discussed the humorous and circulative dimensions of Internet memes already; the multimodal requires more elaboration.” (5)

    Humor is a great way to circulate any topic. It can either provoke positive and negative emotions and either way this generates participation and involvement in a topic or medium such as a meme.

  10. “… fleeting bits of discourse that quickly loose steam once abstracted from their immediate cultural contexts” (page 3)

    I think this captures the life of a meme, they are fads, short lived media sensations and forums for thought that build up and fall apart very fast. While there are meme faces that still make their rounds on the internet their original meaning, rhetoric has long been put to sleep and we’ve let it slip from our minds.

  11. “For Miller, a topos is best understood not as a warrant or formal premise in an enthymeme, but “a point in semantic space that is particularly rich in connectivity to other significant or highly connected points” (142). Such a definition situates topoi not logically (a là the tradition of dialectical topics seen in Aristotle’s Topica) but ideologically: an effective special topos will be one that triggers the appropriate set of conceptual and emotional associations for a given audience within a given cultural context. Ideologies, by this theory, function as the linked sets of beliefs, values, assumptions, and cultural knowledge within which a topos can meaningfully mobilize rhetoric.4 Verbal topoi like “liberty,” “justice,” and “equality,” for instance, are meaningful to Americans on the left and right alike, though these words mean different things to different Americans because they connect to very different points on overlapping but incongruent ideological matrices” (3)

    The explanation of a topo or topoi allows the reader to understand the depths of how emotions, cultural knowledge,and interpretation can all play a part in the understanding of a medium.

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