What’s in a meme? A meme-making party at the KnowledgeLab

What’s in a meme? A meme-making party at the KnowledgeLab

One significant cultural change that has come about due to the rise of social media in the past half-decade is the proliferation of “memes.”  Although they are totally ubiquitous, they are difficult to pin down with a solid definition; the nature of memes is that they are constantly evolving at speeds only made possible by the internet.  Generally, memes are a form of internet humor that involves text juxtaposed with an image, in a way that plays on the emotional resonance of the image and uses it to create new meaning.  The governing principle of memes seems to be that they are “relatable”; they are humorous in that they point out a common experience in a poignant and unexpected way.   

This April, Kayla Foney ’17 organized an event in the KnowledgeLab to explore this peculiar form of cultural production, using a KnowledgeLab $500 mini-grant.  The event sought to investigate what memes really are, how they are situated in a social context, and how they relate gender, race, and nationality.  Foney gathered historical photographs that seemed emotionally evocative even without context. Participants generated captions for the images, thus making them into memes.  Possible captions were posted under the photos, and participants voted on their favorites.  

Using the content created at the event, Foney sought to zero in on key themes that ran throughout the memes.  She found five of these, which she calls as Emotional/Situational Referential, Vocal, Critical, and Contextual.  She describes these themes as the following:

  • Emotional/Situational: Interpreting facial expressions as frustration, shock, joy, etc. Using that to framing the image into a specific situation, such as taking an Easter photo or seeing an ex. Or, describing facial expressions to identify a meme – blinking, pointing, wide mouth.
  • Referential: Plays on past, concurrent, or future memes: “Name a more dynamic trio,” originates from a Twitter celebrity post and has been a popular phrase online for the past few months. “Supa Hot Fire” references a series of rap cypher parody videos from 2013. “It’s Gonna Be May” as a NSync pun/meme that has popped back up yearly at the end of April/in anticipation of May.
  • Vocal: Making the subject speak on something in the photograph or an invented situation of the creator, like having someone tell you something you already know.
  • Critical: Addressing oppression and power dynamics. Gendered experiences of the 2016 election, respectability politics. Racial microaggressions, disappointment with institutions and how they deal with social issues. Deconstructing systemic power.
  • Contextual: Connections to recent social media and pop culture trends like the Get Out Challenge and the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, references to lyrics and musicians like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Prominent use of AAVE/slang, like “Whomst”, and references to cultural habits like clapping out the beat when the music stops at a party.

In a reflection on the event, Foney noticed how the event exceeded some of her expectations, and subverted others.  She said,

“What can this collected material tell us about how to define a meme… and its memory? From the diversity within these five themes alone, it’s clear that the multiplicity of viewpoints and interpretations that go into creating, understanding, and remaking a meme have a huge influence on the final result. Anyone can enter into this creative process and produce something that can convey emotion, humor, and memories to others, regardless of their knowledge of digital culture or confidence in their own abilities. […] I think that the meme-making event was both a huge success and a failure in exploring and understanding what a meme really is, because it seems that the main thing that a meme can be characterized by by is the ability to produce similar and distinct interpretations, from both a presence of and a lack of context. Ultimately, it remains elusive, uncapturable and indefinable – which is, of course, what makes it fun.”

A visit from the local Big Brothers Big Sister’s chapter for a collaborative zine-making workshop

A visit from the local Big Brothers Big Sister’s chapter for a collaborative zine-making workshop

Zines are a classic medium of self expression.  They were perfectly fit for the event we hosted here at the KnowledgeLab last week: the Hampshire County Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter gathered for a creative, collaborative zine-making project.  The little siblings, with the help of their Bigs, got the chance to create zine pages using the KnowledgeLab craft resources about a topic meaningful to them.  The pages were combined into a large collective zine.

 

Mandy Ferrara, one of the hosts, said about the event, “It was such a pleasure to have such a diverse group working together to create art. The students, both big and little, immediately caught on to the project and made a beautiful zine celebrating friendship, activity, and their affinity for the organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

                  

The event was inspired by the zine event Strength for the Struggle, hosted by the library last summer.  Amanda Ferrara of the library and Jennifer Ablard of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization conceived of an adaptation of the workshop for 8-13 year olds.

The zine will be uploaded to Scholarworks, Smith’s archive of digital scholarship. 

Written by Phoebe Weissblum, KnowledgeLab staff

Spreading words of love

Spreading words of love

First and second year Arabic language students gathered in the KnowledgeLab Monday night to make over 30 postcards in Arabic and 24 bags of chocolate. These Valentine’s day gifts were delivered to Michael’s House, a senior residence in Northampton.

Arabic valentines

Arabic Professor May George writes, “I think it is important as a teacher to help students to be successful in life and this cannot happen without caring for others. Teacher’s job is not teaching only, but supporting the students to find the best in this life, and this can be achieved by sharing love and respect for everyone.”

students make Arabic valentines
SONY DSC

The KnowledgeLab “was an amazing place to work. It created a warm atmosphere and a happy environment for the students,” added Professor George.

Image

Visualizing Russian Feminism

visualizingrussianfeminism-1

From December 9-15, 2016, the KnowledgeLab hosted Visualizing Russian Feminism, a multimedia exhibition created by students as a culminating project for RES 236, Contemporary Russian Women Writers, taught by Hilary Fink.

img_0932

With features of propaganda posters and other printed images, video clips, writing, and a slideshow of Russian feminist photography, the exhibition showcased artistic expressions of female identity in Russia from the early revolutionary days of the Bolsheviks to the twenty-first century.

img_0920

Thank you to everyone who attended the exhibit!

img_0974

This project was funded through a KnowledgeLab mini-grant. Mini-grants are available to all Smith students, faculty, classes, and student orgs for projects relating to the themes of knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, and the future of libraries and campus learning spaces, including pop-up installations, events, and more. To learn more, visit http://sophia.smith.edu/knowledgelab.

About the Author:

Kim Lu is a senior at Smith College, majoring in Environmental Science and Policy. She is a Libraries Project Assistant for Neilson Library.

Knowledge Lab Furniture Poll

Knowledge Lab Furniture Poll

How do students want to study in the KnowledgeLab?

Now that the KnowledgeLab has been open to students for a few months, we’re starting to consider how we can improve the furniture options in the space to make it more usable and comfortable for our campus community.

For the past two weeks, a poll was left on the whiteboards in the Knowledge Lab asking students about their opinions on new furniture. Our first questions asked whether students would exercise while they study if given the opportunity, and whether they prefer cozy beanbags or sturdy office chair seating.

Here are the results:

img_0607-2-reduced

We found that almost everyone was open to exercising while they study.

This feedback will help us in purchasing furniture like treadmill desks, where students can walk as they work on their laptops or use the desk space.

img_0609-reduced

The opinion on chairs was a little more split. Several people voted for office chairs and several others for beanbags, but many commented that they liked the current chairs in the Knowledge Lab, which are fairly rigid. Another student commented that office chairs with thick cushions would be preferred, so this might be the best way to compromise when buying new seating.

Our next questions asked about preferred color schemes and communal vs. isolated seating. Here’s what we found:

img_0689-reduced

Interestingly, far more people wanted isolated seating instead of communal seating.

There were also a lot of helpful requests like “chairs with lumbar support” and “more red bean bags and little tables please” that we can take into consideration when we decide on which chairs to buy.

img_0685-reduced

According to our second poll, more people liked cool colors better than warm colors. Others had their own suggestions such as “natural light” and “light colored wood” which are other aspects that can be important to a particular color scheme. Cool colors and lighter woods seem to be the direction we should take after this poll.

Subscribe to this blog for updates on new furniture purchases in the KnowledgeLab, and submit a project proposal if you have ideas for projects, furniture, or technology for the KnowledgeLab!

About the Author:

Tori Clayton is a Junior at Smith College who is majoring in both English and Music. She is a Libraries Project Assistant in Neilson Library.

Open House!

Open House!

On Friday, October 21st, the Knowledge Lab had its first open house! We were very happy to see all of the new faces. This was a fantastic way for members of the community to interact with this new space and learn more about what the Knowledge Lab has to offer.

students making buttons
Students made their own custom buttons using the KnowledgeLab button maker

There are many different resources that people were able to explore, including MaKey MaKeys, the typewriter, the button maker and the Apple TV.  KnowledgeLab student workers were stationed at a different part of the Knowledge Lab and got to demonstrate how folks can use the space.

two students using a button maker
Tori shows another student how to use the button maker

The Knowledge Lab is an accessible and open space with resources for everyone on campus. For example, we were able to connect the MaKey MaKey kit up to bananas and play the piano! For our younger friends who came to play, this was a fun way to get them involved in the space. Exclamations of “Woah, I’ll definitely be back here! This is so cool!” could be heard as they moved from the MaKey MaKey to the mini-projector for a Hamilton soundtrack streaming session.

students looking at a TV screen together

Thank you again to all that came out! We hope to see your faces again in the future.

About the Author:

Sophia Buchanan is a junior at Smith College who is majoring in Government and minoring in Economics.

 

Strength for the Struggle

Strength for the Struggle

Social work students at zine event
Participants contributed to a collaborative zine

How do we respond to a summer marked by news about violence, hate crimes, and political polarization? In the spirit of International Zine Month, the Knowledgelab hosted it’s first event – inviting members of the campus community to create a hand-made publication together.  Zines have a long history as a feminist genre of publication, grounded in documenting personal experiences and making space for counter-narratives to the mainstream media. Archivists Kate Sumner and Amanda Ferrara along with Digital Scholarship Librarian Miriam Neptune collected government documents recently withdrawn from the library, magazines, newspapers and other found materials for creators to work with in developing their own pages. Students from the School of Social Work, staff members, high school students from Feminist Camp at Hampshire College, and interested community members shared thoughts, inspiration, and creativity.

Archivist Mandy Ferrara making a zine page Two participants in the workshop making a zine page together A workshop participant and her young son at the workshopOne zine-making workshop participant takes a Polaroid picture of another participantTwo participants in the zine-making workshop in the KnowledgeLab

Several participants in the zine-making workshop

The Flash Pod

The Flash Pod

What is your wish for public spaces at Smith? What spaces are missing?

Installation in the Core
Installation in the Neilson Library Core

Claire Adams ’16 and Geneva Strauss-Wise ’16  posed these questions to the campus community in Neilson Library in Fall 2015, as part of a Special Studies course in Design/Build through the Design Thinking Initiative. Adams and Strauss-Wise invited students to redesign and reconfigure a pop-up installation space in the Neilson Library Core composed of milk crates in order to engage with these questions.

A library catalog card on a clothespin. Text: What spaces are missing on campus? cozy ones! with good teas!
The project, a “collective letter to the built environment and its planners”, used found and repurposed materials to engage with the Smith campus’ past, present, and future. Students left comments on beautifully re-purposed library catalog cards which ask questions such as “What spaces are missing on campus?”

In partnership with librarians, Strauss-Wise and Adams designed an installation that took advantage of available space and the broad and diverse community that uses Neilson Library to gain feedback for the next phase of their project: a prototype of a mobile bike cart that could be used by student groups for pop-up events on campus. The bike cart prototype, called The Flash Pod, was also installed in Neilson Library to gather student feedback.

The Flash Pod installation in the Neilson Library Core
The Flash Pod prototype in Neilson Library. Image by Instagram user @theflashpod

Learn More About the Project

The Flash Pod | Design Thinking Initiative – Fall 2015 project report from Claire Adams

Instagram account: The Flash Pod