Making sense? The structure and meanings of digital memetic nonsense

Yuval Katz*, Limor Shifman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

This paper offers the first systematic analysis of ‘digital memetic nonsense’– clusters of seemingly meaningless digital texts imitated and circulated by many participants. We evaluated this phenomenon through two conceptual lenses: theories on nonsense in the pre-digital age and the techno-cultural conditions that facilitate its contemporary formations. A grounded analysis of 139 nonsensical memes led to their typology into 5 genres: linguistic silliness, embodied silliness, pastiche, dislocations, and interruptions. In each of these genres, we show how digital nonsense may potentially serve as a social glue that bonds members of phatic, image-oriented, communities. If, in the past, nonsense was depicted in both intellectual terms, as defiant deconstruction of meaning, and in playful/social terms, its current memetic manifestations lean heavily toward the latter. Rather than being a reflection on ‘referential meaning’, digital nonsense is analyzed as a generative source of ‘affective meaning’ that marks the formation of social connections preceding cognitive understanding. We conclude by highlighting the potentially subversive implications of this shift for participatory barriers and community membership.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)825-842
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Volume20
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 3 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • Affect
  • meaning
  • memes
  • nonsense
  • re-mix

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