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An Unofficial Know Your Meme Statement of Purpose

Last posted Jan 10, 2011 at 10:29PM EST. Added Jan 07, 2011 at 09:33PM EST
19 posts from 11 users

A few weeks ago I got into an email exchange with a person over last year’s anon plots against Know Your Meme. When I showed the email thread to the rest of the Meme Team, they thought it was something that I really needed to share with the rest of the community.

While we’ve never posted an official Know Your Meme Statement of Purpose, I think some of the concepts in this exchange are important to understanding the what, why, and how of what we do….

Last edited Jan 07, 2011 at 09:39PM EST

This is what he wrote to me (excerpted):

It is difficult to see powerful ideas generated in underground communities (that really feel like they are owned by their “inside” group of creators) becoming popularized – and it seems strange and almost a bit hurtful to the creating crew. Case in point: There is a group of anons plotting a Rocketboom/KnowYourMeme hijacking; well I’m not sure it will actually go anywhere but see this thread:

They are upset you are making $ from this, especially from a major media co. How do you rationalize Rocketboom operating under the auspices of Sony? I might guess it’s good to get paid to do what you like. And is there even a care to protect the documentation/research from becoming mass marketed by them? I might guess that you believe as I do that memes cannot be controlled by anyone, so whether their distribution channel be through underground/social networks or mainstream corporations – it doesn’t matter. Perhaps these anons are blind to the fact that millions are already “tuned in” and that their “secret codes” aren’t all that secret… Is it even an issue?

Regardless, there are tons of  fashion, language, art, music trends that have exploded from the underground (see blue jeans, beat writers, art nouveau, hip hop, etc). Great ideas are memetic. And that’s OK.  4chan’s creativity will feed cheezburger. urbandictionary will be used in courts of law. References to videos on Rutter’s list have ended up on Tosh.O. People can’t resist great ideas.

Adult capitalists have always earned $ from the awesome ideas of youth. It happens all the time and it’s nothing new. It’s what the music industry is based on! I think it’s pretty apparent anyway that monetary and intellectual economies are shifting with the rise of DIY’s power (Creative Commons, wikis, zazzle, etc) and there are always two edges to the sword.

And here’s what I wrote back:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this with me.

I agree that -- unless there are drastic changes in the way that the internet is monitored and cyberpoliced -- memes can’t be controlled.  They are often based on subverted cultural norms, the flagrant misuse of copyright, and are anti-exploitative and anti-market.  All of these things make them resistant to corporate control.  I’ve spent a lot of time speaking at conferences and writing long blog posts on why this is.

Similarly I don’t think that memes can be copyrighted or “sold”. It just doesn’t make sense.  Sure, companies like ICHC can claim ‘Fair Use’ and sell display ads around community content but at no point can ICHC actually claim to own it.

To me, the fear has always been that what happened to punk, indie, hip-hop, and other genres of music will also happen to memes. But there is a difference between memes and music: music grew up in a space where big industry controlled the means of funding and meaningful distribution.  Memes, on the other hand, rely on decentralized creation and distribution.  While there will always be capitalists who will find a way to repackage meme content for profit, the meaning of memes comes from their group participation (not consumption) something that no one entity can ever control without faking it (spamming /b/), and honestly all that ever results in is weak memes (ex: Weezer Ratitude Dog).

As far as Know Your Meme is concerned, there is a perception that it has a relationship with Sony (it doesn’t) and that KYM is trying to sell or copyright memes (lolwut?)

Rocketboom (the company) once had a distribution deal with Sony.  It doesn’t anymore.  It started in August of 2008 and ended in July of 2009 and was about ‘Rocketboom Daily with Joanne Colan’.  It was never about KYM.  Sony didn’t know what memes were and didn’t care.  All they wanted was the show with the girl and the map.

Meanwhile, we created KYM because we were seeing more and more ‘meme’ material show up in mainstream media but it was being used out of context and without giving proper credit to the communities that made them.  So we made a show and we made the MemeDB and we asked for peoples’ help in building it all.

And now here we are, providing useful info to civilians, explaining to the press and public why they shouldn’t use memes as a reason to restrict access to the internet, building an API for making the database more useful, and working with academics to make sense of it all.  And we want to keep it going so we fund the community and the resource through on-site display ads and creating a web show.

We’ve considered alternate ways of funding the company but we’ve been down most of those roads before.  We’re artists and activists and academics.  We’ve worked for non-profits and have seen how hard they are to sustain.  We’ve worked for schools and known the horror of having funding pulled.  So while we’re open to discussing other ways of keeping it going, the end goal is about creating a lasting and relevant community resource.  So far this model is working.

Meme culture is fast becoming pop culture.  You can see it in the traffic of sites that are way more popular than KYM like BuzzFeed and Cheezburger and Tumblr and even Reddit and Fark.  Comedy Central as Tosh.0 and G4TV has Web Soup.  Like you said, anon’s creativity will feed all of these places.  What it all means in the long term will have little to do with what KYM does and everything to do with the community’s ability to stay together and keep their own creative spaces from being co-opted.

Last edited Jan 07, 2011 at 09:37PM EST

Hell, I can’t believe I read all this, but with the email you sent, but I definitely think everything you wrote was entirely correct, and states everything I believe KYM does, in the short time I’ve been on KYM. “The end goal is about creating a lasting and relevant community resource”. I believe that statement is coming true, as KYM is by far the best place in which you can know some of the best information possible regarding internet memes.

Last edited Jan 07, 2011 at 09:56PM EST
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Too long; read anyway.

Nice krama whoring, splitting it out into three posts so you could triple your karma. (Yeah, like our KYM overlords care about collecting karma when they’re busy raking in the wheelbarrows of Jewgold.)

Anyway, good stuff. Neither KYM nor anyone else owns or controls memes. We all have influence, but it’s the very nature of memes that they have a life of their own, independent of the communities that spawned them and/or adopted them.

Some people aren’t mad because KYM makes zillions of dollars on memes by suing kids.

I think they are mad because we educate people about internet memes, and them being people who like being in a secret club, do not like people knowing about it.

Well written, Yatta.

And I’m glad to know a bit more about the deal with Sony, as I’ve been interested in it as anons bring it up often as a reason to hate KYM.

I dont see a point of writing anything if they are just gonna ignore all arguments, and blindly follow a a random persons point of views, you know thats sorta a scary thing, and you should know why.

Shame people put so much effort into hate, and never stop to fix the problems because its too inconvenient for them to bother thinking about, its a cycle of sorts.

Last edited Jan 08, 2011 at 07:58PM EST

Like your email said, it’s not really a secret. There’s tons of great ideals out there that can turn into a fad or meme. One way or another, it’s going to show up into the public.

Last edited Jan 08, 2011 at 09:59PM EST

Ashbot wrote:

I saw an elephant and got even more confused.

Really I thought elephants symbolized the obvious.

Last edited Jan 09, 2011 at 10:18PM EST

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