Every day when you log onto any social media platform you’ll see whats currently in the news, the weather and you’ll also see the current viral sensation. In some cases these are memes in others they’re videos. Take for instance the viral parodies of Drake’s song Hotline Bling over the course of a week these videos have been remixed with all sorts of intent, other dances, pizza making and more. They’re widely known now and every discourse community has had their hand in making a unique one.
So how do these things take off? Why do they take off? In the case of the Drake videos its because they’re funny and people loved to remix them, in other cases like the UC Davis incident of Lt. Pike pepper spraying peacefully protesting students for no reason, the videos go viral out of anger and support for those wronged. Very often on social media we see viral videos of excessive police force, animal abusers and other social justice issues. By sharing the video we show support, solidarity or complete opposition adding our two cents in with the share.
This is the case surrounding the visual component of the Trayvon Martin case. Lisa Lebduska goes through the viral web of images used to play the case out in the media in Racist Visual Rhetoric and Images of Trayvon Martin. “Power and inequality themselves have long been mediated by visual practices across and array of media” (page 1) she introduces the idea that racism, like many other global issues, is amplified and reinforced with the use of social media. When the Martin case hit the media it was met with a firestorm of circulation, prosecution and outrage. Battle lines were drawn and some virally reposted images of Martin as a wholesome family kid who was judged because of what he looked like, while others, including Zimmerman’s defense team, took typical teenage myspace images and blew them out of context in an attempt to make Martin a villain.
One of the most circulated images was the one of Martin and Zimmerman juxtaposed. It shows Martin smiling at the camera, the image of Zimmerman was a 2005 mug shot (page 2). This image was created to push public cry for the indictment of Zimmerman painting Trayvon as cherubic (page 3) and honest, using an image of him in a Hollister brand shirt which is often associated with middle class (page 2). Carefully choosing the image was everything as Lubduska points out it was “a martyred child is easier to convey than the nuanced complexity of a human teen…..” (page 4).
That then ties in to the statement made by Trayvon’s mother Sybrina “People want to make this a black and white issue, but i believe that this is about right and wrong. No one should be shot just because someone else thinks they’e suspicious” (page 3). In the media the story was pitched from as racial standpoint which is why the media in favor of indicting Zimmerman chose images of Martin smiling, with family and doing things like snowboarding over “human teen” behavior photos because doing so would only amplify the stereotypical images also circulating.
Whenever we see an image it is often always accompanied by a story, that story however does not always accurately depict the picture and vice versa. “…Images are not things. They are relationships that we create.” (page 6), this powerful closing is everything. Images are what we propagate them to be, when made viral they can have a lasting and dangerous effect.