The Rhetorical Appeal of Memes

Writing, as we have learned, is an ecology. Marilyn Cooper explains this in depth in her article, “The Ecology of Writing”. She states that writing is an activity through which a person is continually engaged in a varsity of socially constructed institutions. Other authors from this course have echoed this notion of a wider definition of writing and literacy, by wanting to include things like texting language and cool talk.

As we move to expand what it means to write, many believe that memes have it’s own sort of literacy. The ability to create a meme, understand it’s context, and apply it to other scenarios requires a sort of skill that is reflective of millennial and Gen Z culture.

There are a plethora of ways in which memes are used to communicate, and more and more emerge as the internet goes on. However, there are a few strong categories that have emerged.

1. Humor. Okay this one is obvious. While all memes are rooted in humor, some of them don’t have any other communicative purpose than to make the viewer laugh. There isn’t a message, it’s just for laughs. The Poot meme is a great example. Nothing to see here, just a very unflattering picture of Demi Lovato that the internet ran with.

2. Reactionary. Some memes are used to react to what someone said or posted. They are often send as a response to a text message or tweet. Usually, they are used to express shock, exhaustion, disapproval, or any emotion that would be better explained by an accompaniment of an image. I sent this picture to my roommate when she told me she slept through her exam.


3. Relatability. A huge purpose of memes is that it provides another way for people to relate to one another. A lot of memes are incredibly versatile, and it is considered skillful to be able to apply memes to otherwise niche situations and become more relatable. This type of meme format allows for the same image to be reused countless times in a wide variety of situations that fit the rhetorical situation of the image.

4. Oral Tradition. Often, memes that are in the form of video or audio transform into funny phrases that younger people say to one another in person. When someone finds themself in a situation that is like one they saw a meme used, they may repeat the phrase out loud to someone to make them laugh, or emphasize what they are experiencing. A very common one right now is to say ‘Is it bussin’ Janele?’ When you see your friend eating something that looks good. This is taken from a tik tok in which the audio uses that quote.

Slang words and Meme Culture

In class we have discussed ways in which oral societies conflict with literate ones. The Goody and Watt’s article describes these sort of consequences which ultimately leads to the destruction of oral societies.

For a long time now, our culture has been categorized as literate as opposed to oral. Most of us know how to read and write, we study literacy in school, and do much of our communication using words and written language. However, I believe that now our society is at a sort of hybrid with the presence of meme culture. Which, I hypothesize, can be traced back to slang words.

The article above provides an origin story for slang. Slang words can be thought of as informal language with widespread use. For much of history, slang was appropriated into mainstream culture from minority group colloquials. However, some words and phrases are taken from worldly events that were especially monumental and impactful on society. Things like “far out” and “going nuclear” where a result of the government getting involved in nuclear power and space travel. Slang words are created when people take one element of culture and use it to communicate another idea.

Is this not the same as meme making? I would argue most certainly and that slang words predicted meme culture. I mean, let’s think for a minute. Meme’s are essentially just an evolved form of slang, we even use a lot of them in daily conversations and not just online. If I stub my toe and say, “mother trucker dude that hurt like a buttcheek on a stick”, someone who is familiar with that viral video would know what I’m talking about. In the same way, when someone back in the 80’s said words like “grody” and “rad”. Their parents might look at the funny in the same way mine would if I quoted a Tik Tok audio, but the point remains the same.

Slang words reintroduced oral traditions back into society and meme culture is making sure it continues to thrive.

Christina Vera for Columbus City Schools

For me, the reading from this class that stood out the most was “The Right to be Literate” in which, Maisha Winn examined the school to prison pipeline. The reality being that lack of literacy and increased incarceration of youths go hand in hand. Due to no tolerance punishments, severe underfunding, and non-inclusive ways of teaching literacy, inner city students are at a much higher risk for entering the prison system. Ultimately, knowledge is power and more specifically, being literate gives someone a sense of personal power and control over their life. The article states, “Inviting youth to sit at a metaphorical table where they can be engaged their education, and learn how to read, write, speak, and thus act for themselves, while providing opportunities for youth to view themselves as worthy and deserving participants in community and civic engagement is critical”. 

Equality of education is at the forefront of my values. I believe that every student, no matter their history, zip code, or any other category, deserves the right to a quality education system that works for them, and not against them. Over the past few months I have had the privilege to serve on Christina Vera’s campaign for Columbus City School Board.


Christina Vera is a first time campaign runner, a mother of 3 children within the CCSD, and founder of Femergy, a non-profit for women’s empowerment. She has witnessed at first hand the state of our Columbus City Schools and demands change.

Christina’s priorities overlap with the solutions mentioned in “The Right to be Literate”. Christina knows that there is an education debt and will fight for equity education for all. She understands that the current curriculum does not benefit al students, and wants to increase progressive literacy classes, trade skills, and provide multiple pathways to achieving a diploma. Christina is also prioritizing building and facility improvements.

The school to prison pipeline is apparent, and it is happening within our community. It is imperative that we elect leaders who will fight for students above all. Voting for Christina Vera this Fall is essential for the rival of CCSD and the well being of our youth individuals.

If you would like to volunteer, donate, or learn more about Christina, follow this link

Siri, Alexa, and more Robots

Who else feels like their phone is listening to our conversations way more than we realize? Just the other day I was telling my roommate I was in the mood for Panera white cheddar mac & cheese, and what was the first ad that popped up on my phone not more than 2 minutes later? You guessed it. One telling me to go straight to Panera on Lane and woof down a nice warm cup of cheesy deliciousness.

In the 21st century, there’s no such thing as a private conversation as long as Siri or Alexa are in the room. Although it seems like we have a problem with artificial intelligence, in some sense, it can be the other way around. Heather Suzanne Woods article, “Asking more of Siri and Alexa” exposes how AI is created with serious female gender stereotypes in order to cloud their ways of surveillance. She calls this “digital domesticity”, which encourages users to exchange in more personal forms of data exchanges, and make them forget that talking to a robot in the home could be a little off putting.

Siri and Alexa are people pleasers. They gently guide users to make decisions and have an overall calming effect. They also have a polite, sometimes even cheeky sense of humor. All in an attempt to make us comfortable with giving a glimpse into our personal lives. But what happens if AI comes in the form of a male voice? What does that do for the user and how is it different? There are a plethora of examples of Robots in pop culture to look to for answers.

Take for instance Sonny from iRobot, Optimus Prime from Transformers, and C-3PO form Star Wars. All of these robots are unique but also similar. Sonny is strong and intelligent, and does his absolute best to behave and think like a human, but some ideas and emotions are lost in translation. Same with Optimus Prime, he’s large and incredibly strong and powerful, but constantly miscommunicating with his human ally. C-3PO is less “manly” but is still cautious and loyal to Skywalker.

All of their characteristics suggest that male AI’s are created with the same physical stereotypes as that of a human male. Their purpose is to serve and protect the human, while lacking in communication and emotions. More often than not, the male robot sacrifices himself for their human companion. Female robots on the other hands, are created with the same emotional stereotypes as that of a human female. I mean, Karen from SpongeBob is literally supposed to be Planktons wife.

While all of my examples are fictional, I think there’s an important takeaway: even if these intelligence’s aren’t “real” we still force the same gender stereotypes on them. And as long as we’re doing that, then there’s still a problem.