One Does not simply generate a meme
The template for this meme (one of the key features of internet memes being a common image/concept within a culture) comes from the 2001 film “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” According to Know Your Meme, the initial development of the meme replaced the word “walk” from the Boromir’s comment that “One does not simply walk into Mordor,” a treacherous endeavor. More recently, though, the template has been used hyperbolically, a common rhetorical technique among online forms of cultural critique, along with other humor-inducing techniques such as the visual pun.
From a scholarly perspective, Kevin Brock’s 2014 article “Enthymeme as Rhetorical Algorithm” has informed my thinking about hyperbole and visual punning techniques. In terms of memes, the enthymeme works by presenting a major premise (image/template) and the user inserts the minor premise (captions); for the meme to be effective, the reader/viewer forms a conclusion based on the combination of both premises through the practice of either syllogistic or paradigmatic logic. In many ways, memes function in a dialogic manner, in the manner of the sophists; as Susan Jarratt writes, “the sophist combines narrative [the image in its diegesis] with rhetorical argument [the captioned text] to make his [or her] case” (“Rereading the Sophists”).
To return to the meme of Boromir, this meme can be leveraged in a variety of ways, although today it seems to be used most often in developing a sophistic argument through the use of hyperbole and with an enthymemic structure. That is, this meme’s strength appears to be in how it presents an implicit argument (like most memes) about the perceived danger or treacherousness of an event or act–at least for readers/viewers who recognize the cultural reference.
Jeff T. Johnson