Recently, as I was rereading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing along with a small section from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, I was highly conscious of the fact that Berger’s writing already seemed suited to image macros (as evidenced by their use in my examples here). Berger’s suitability owes, in part perhaps, because
1. His grammar is already gnomic, simplified, and compact in its interpretative moments. Berger’s textual style is actually a great lens to read meme grammar through, since like image captions, he uses predominately active verbs, few compound sentences, and his syntax often contains a small rhetorical pivot point upon which the totality of the Grand Argument rests. (Although I recognize that I have selected two similar meme-types for my Berger quotes. My meme-Berger connection breaks down if I insert his text in an insanity wolf image macro. The effect becomes something else. Textual-visual codes not meeting squarely.)
2. More broadly, Berger’s text is dependent on highly mediated reproductions of oil paintings, nudes, and advertising photographs to carry the weight of his textual analysis on human perception. (I’m toying with the idea that Berger and Wittgenstein are themselves historical meme-machines.)
Still, I don’t mean to imply that memes—and I’m thinking specifically of image macros here—are “the scholar’s art,” but, just as Berger merges text and image to generate the thrust of his argument, memes arguably serve a similar function as small frames of cultural interpretation—frames that assist the interpretation of human perception. Not to take up the position of Captain Obvious, but the gnomic, condensed quality of the meme caption is expressive of this interpretative frame.
Jeff T. Johnson