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Meme makers – produsers AND cultural intermediaries

Chloe Hava – 309339650

Kai Soh, Thurs 12:00-15:00

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‘Produsing’ can be a lucrative career for some. Brands have realised that user created content, and those who make it, are culturally and potentially commercially influential. Certain meme makers can be considered to have the cultural knowledge and commercial influence of ‘cultural intermediaries’.  A recent example of this notion can be seen in the #TFWGucci campaign – a collaboration between meme makers and various international artists for the ‘Les Marche des Merveilles’ watch collection. Gucci enlisted the services of meme makers such as @beigecardigan and @youvegotnomale – creator of the infamous ‘starter pack’ phenomenon – to create Instagram based memes that use the currently favoured meme terminology and imagery while promoting their products. These leading ‘produsers’, who have risen to prominence in the social media landscape, are increasingly seen to have the required cultural knowledge and strong following to be considered commercially impactful. When considering this idea, it is necessary to first discuss the development of web 2.0, social media and produsage.

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Web 2.0 and participation

The development of the concept web 2.0 signified a shift in how online information is produced and consumed. Rather than referring to a technological development, the term web 2.0 describes a change in approach (Hinton and Hjorth p. 16). Where as web 1.0 had a strict producer versus user application, web 2.0 blurred these lines to allow for a participative and interactive medium (O’Reilly 2007 p. 18). It is from this new participative perspective that social media was born. Social media channels allow for various forms of participation amongst their users – from liking a post on Facebook, posting a picture on Instagram, or using a hashtag to categorize content on Twitter (Hinton and Hjorth pg. 55). An expansion on the notion of participation is when users of social media platforms become producers of content (Hinton and Hjorth pg. 55).

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Produsage

 Bruns describes the reciprocal nature of communication and content production specific to web 2.0 as produsage – “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement.” (Bruns 2008 p. 2). The produser creates or participates in the creation of content to be distributed through online media channels. User-led or user created content appears in many different formats and platforms in the online sphere. The collaborative online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, citizen journalist blogs, BitTorrent and the Creative Commons suite are all examples of produsage (Bruns 2007 p. 2). Bruns states that although the method and format of produsage may vary, there are four distinct characteristics that forms of produsage all share –

  • A movement from centralised producers of content to a wider participative base
  • Constantly changing roles from collaborator to user to leader
  • Content is never complete, and is always evolving
  • A permissive approach to ownership

(Bruns 2007 p. 3)

The theory of produsage is careful to move away from previous terms which indicate the role of the changing consumer, such as Toffler’s ‘prosumer.’ This theory still works on the basis that one group is responsible for the production of products to be consumed by the masses. Bruns states that produsage is a move away from this industrial production process to a space where content is continuously evolving (Bruns 2007 p. 4). The term product itself also implies a complete or finished version, as opposed to one that is regularly updated.

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Social Media and Produsage

 Bruns states that the key elements of social media are community and collaboration (Bruns and Bahnisch 2009 p. 7). These inherent properties of social media platforms have led to the shift towards produsage. Social media sites promote community and collaboration in the following ways:

  • They are easy to use and encourage participation. For example, Wikipedia is branded as a site that ‘Anyone Can Edit’
  • Participation is gradual to allow users to build up a skill set for content creation
  • User communities are allowed to develop organically, and users are afforded equal opportunity to become leaders in the social media landscape
  • Content is shared and attributed to users

(Bruns and Bahnisch 2009 p. 8)

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Memes

Memes are a type of user created content that usually appear in the form of an image or video with accompanying humorous text. The word meme was adapted from the Greek term ‘mimema’, which translates as ‘something imitated’ (Gil 2017). Memes are a perfect example of produsage given that:

  • Anyone can create them – the tools for production and distribution are crude and readily available
  • They are shared amongst users with creative attribution given
  • There is a constant re-interpretation and recirculation of memetic imagery and terminology

Although the material needed to create a meme is at anyone’s disposal, there are certain individuals that will emerge as the leaders of the meme making pack. In the world of social media, these individuals are awarded significant ‘cultural capital’. Increasingly, these meme makers are turning cultural capital into actual capital. For example, @thefatjewish and @fuckjerry, although both considered to be meme thieves, now make thousands of dollars in product placement fees per post (Dhillon 2017). The ability of these star meme makers to culturally connect with other users while promoting brands and products makes them not only produsers but ‘cultural intermediaries’.

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Cultural Intermediaries

Pierre Bourdieu developed the term cultural intermediaries to describe the ‘new petite bourgeoisie’, or those that have cultural knowledge and work in industries of representation (Negus 2002 p. 3). Bourdieu states, “The new petite bourgeoisie comes into its own in all the occupations involving presentation and representation, and in all the institutions providing symbolic goods and services, and in cultural production and organisation which have expanded considerably in recent years” (Bourdieu 1984 p. 359). In this vein, meme makers like @youvegotnomale are considered to be cultural intermediaries, as they have carved a career out of comical cultural representation that now extends to promoting the goods and services of various brands. Matthews and Maguire argue that the term cultural intermediary is used a little loosely these days, and that in order to be truthful to the notion, this person must have a certain degree of influence, have a level of expertise and be involved in framing products or ideas (Matthews and Maguire 2012 p. 554). While not all meme makers fit into this definition, @youvegotnomale’s work for the #TFWGucci campaign is a prime example of a produser functioning as a cultural intermediary.

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#TFWGucci Campaign

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is described as having certain passion for online culture, and was looking for way to integrate authentic-looking user created content into a Gucci campaign. The #TFWGucci campaign uses the memetic terminology of ‘that feel when…’ coupled with current meme constructs, such as @youvegotnomale’s ‘starter pack’ (Colon 2017). Rather than turning to his own creative team, Michele turned to produsers like @youvegotnomale, who has cultural influence due to his large following and has a keen interest and understanding of fashion culture. @youvegotnomale framed the typical Gucci consumer behaviour through his starter pack, while simultaneously promoting their products. This therefor renders him both a produser and a cultural intermediary.

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Conclusion

Memes are a form of produsage that anyone is able to create, however only a select few will be able to turn this form of user created content into a profitable occupation. Some of these leading meme makers will be considered knowledgably and influential enough by brands to be ambassadors, using produsage to function as cultural intermediaries.

Relevance to my campaign

For my campaign pitch to the Con, we used musical based memes in order to connect with our target audience. We developed a tactic of ‘caturday memes’ – given that memes containing cats are usually a hit. They are a simple, free and fun way to get your message across.

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Word Count: 1279

References

  • Bruns, A. (2007). ‘produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-led Content      Creation’ in Proceedings Creativity & Cognition 6. Washington DC
  •  Bruns, A. (2008). The Future is User-led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage. Fibreculture Journal (11)
  • Bruns, A. and Bahnisch, M. (2009). Social Media: Tools for User-generated Content. Volume 1 – State of the Art
  • Bruns, A. and Bahnisch, M. (2009). Social Media: Tools for User-generated Content. Volume 1 – State of the Art
  • Colon, A. (2017, March 18). These ‘Relatable’ Gucci Memes Are Hilarious. Retrieved from: http://www.refinery29.com/2017/03/145831/gucci-funny-meme-campaign
  • Dhillon, K. (2017, April 20). Here’s How Much Money You Can Make With Memes. Retrieved from: http://www.highsnobiety.com/2017/04/20/how-to-make-money-with-memes/
  • Gil, P. (2017, April 17). What is a ‘Meme’? Retrieved from: https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-a-meme-2483702
  • Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: Sage
  • Maguire, J. and Matthews, J. (2012). Are we all Cultural Intermediaries now? An Introduction to Cultural Intermediaries in Context. London: Sage
  • Negus, K. (2002). ‘The work of Cultural Intermediaries and the Enduring Distance between Production and Consumption’ in The Cultural Intermediaries Reader. London: Sage
  • O’Reilly, T. (2007). What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. Munich Personal RePEc Archive: Paper no. 4578

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