Highbrow Memes, Lowbrow Memes

LOL the vote.


Credit to The Awl for hosting an election discussion that ignores all the talking points dominating the discourse on cable right now. The panelists are Whitney Phillips, a folklorist who studies trolls, and Kate Miltner, who wrote her thesis on LOLcats. Their topic is political memes, but they branch out into related areas of Internet culture fairly frequently.

Here's Phillips:

For some, political memes represent an EPIC WIN for CROWDSOURCED DEMOCRACY. For others, they are a sign of the intellectual apocalypse…There's always been the highbrow/lowbrow divide; people have been weeping over how stupid everyone else is and how much worse everything is getting since humans learned how to whine about the good old days (back in my day being a Neanderthal really meant something; now it's just a pickup line). So those concerns are expected, almost trite. But the political purists, who apparently only ever have Deep Important Thoughts, aren't the only people in the facepalm camp. A large swath of early meme/ROFL/internet culture whatever-adopters (a category that has existed for years, but still doesn't have an agreed-upon name) have long been wary of the mainstreaming of internet culture, and see the onslaught of poppy political memes as further proof that meme/ROFL/internet whatever culture has gone corporate. Think punks walking past a Hot Topic store.

Here's Miltner:

I can't help but feel that this is a little too Frankfurt School for my taste (i.e., the only art is High Art and that pop culture is going to destroy us all because we the General Public are a bunch of brainless zombies who do whatever the puppetmaster advertisers tell us to). The fact that a distinction is developing between high-meme culture/low-meme culture is pretty hilarious, simply because most people consider memes to be the lowest of low culture—and anyone who tries to persuade people otherwise usually gets mocked outside of internetty circles. Or at least, that was my experience with my LOLCats thesis—most of the comments on the mainstream news sites that covered it were hilariously outraged that me and my waste-of-time degree even existed.

Anyway, the whole SOME MEMES ARE GOOD BECAUSE THEY ARE REAL AND SOME ARE JUST COPIES just seems like of the modern-day equivalent of Adorno and Horkheimer being all, "Classical music and Renaissance paintings are TRUE art and jazz and movies are CRAP for MORONS," which, LOL.

And here's the rest.