Thursday, February 16, 2012

Self-aggrandizement masquerading as self-reproach: the rhetorics of memes

Preface: I have Farah Mendlesohn's excellent and intriguing Rhetorics of Fantasy on my desk, so I'm overusing the phrase "Rhetoric of X"; as further proof, I just started a fantasy story and not knowing what else to call it, I titled it "Rhetoric of Flame." If it had been an sf story, it probably would've been "Rhetoric of X," which strikes me as a little more self-conscious. But that said, don't take too seriously the promise of "the rhetorics of memes."

Body: I'm shocked--shocked--to find that my recent contribution to the "What People Think I Do" meme has not utterly destroyed that meme; apparently, people didn't get the memo and are still making and posting that meme.

For the curious, here's the one I made:
I confess to liking this contribution for 2 main reasons: it doesn't have to do with a particular niche of person (and my other idea for this would be to take photos of me); and it collapses the internal fantasy with the external reality. That is, for Cthulhu, its dreams of what it does and what everyone else thinks of it are the same as what it actually does.

But I don't dislike this meme because it points out the difference between the interior fantasy life, the exterior fantasy life (that is, the life others exterior to you imagine), and the reality. I dislike it because it seems to be self-reproach ("I'm a writer, but all I do is play solitaire"), but with a wink and a nod ("but I'm really still a writer!").

If what you do with your free time is play solitaire, then maybe you're not a writer, but just an amateur solitaire player.

Afterword: But am I right? It's possible that the people posting and responding to this particular meme are enjoying the graphics because it allows them to acknowledge the difference between what they wish and what they actually have in life. They get to say out loud, in a joke, something very painful that they couldn't otherwise acknowledge. Could this meme's structure be therapeutic in some ways?


  1. I don't know. I see where you are coming from for some of these and it is a tired meme at this point. However if I personally am taking into consideration the "Librarian" ones I have reposted I disagree. The end result of, "what I really do" in both of the ones I have seen for my people (Librarians with a big L) are A. Herding cats in one, which seems kind of obscure but in a way to many of us in the field explaining all the things we do and why we are relevant to society FEELS like herding cats because it is more difficult than you may think.
    B. The second one actually DOES include several pictures of us wearing the many hats we wear in the "What I actually do" area. No, we aren't rocket scientists or anything but we word hard in contrast to one of the pictures (what the taxpayers thing I do) which shows someone dancing around in money or some of the old school pictures of ladies in horned rimmed glasses hanging about a card catalogue. I guess this is a sore subject in times of budget cuts, so maybe the (L)ibrarian version of this meme is too personal for me to be commenting on?

    So, anyway, yeah there are some of these where the end result seems to delve into self reproach. However, maybe some writers need to play solitaire to get their creative juices going? Maybe that aspect of it *is* therapeutic, like, "I wish I could write but somehow my writer's block is preventing me to do anything but play solitaire! FML!" (To end a meme with another meme.)

  2. To end a meme with another meme.

    I believe that's the only way to kill a meme.

    I see your point re: budget cuts and the disconnect between popular culture/conservative ranting on librarians and what librarianship actually means. The one "What People Think.." graphic that I liked was the one where the last panel was separated into all the different things that librarians do. But I liked it because it wasn't sly or hiding its message at all--it was pretty overt: librarianship is complex. That could be a good example of subverting this meme.

    (I don't know that I've seen the cat one.)

    This probably sounds like I'm against irony--when really, I'm only against other people using irony.