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.

Bot or Not? Ethical Questions on the Use of AI Writing Bots

If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a customer service call, then you know how frustrating it can be to talk to a robot. Simply giving one’s name can cause a panic over the threat of the dreaded, “Sorry, could you repeat that?”

Currently, it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re conversing with a robot. But what about when it comes to informative writing, like news reporting via articles and social media? Would you trust a robot with your news? And could you even tell a robot writer from a human one?

Several big-name news outlets—like Bloomberg, Forbes, and the Washington Post—have been employing AI writers for years now, which cover less important stories or complete first drafts for journalists.

This 2020 article from the Guardian, written by a robot explaining its peaceful intentions, generated a hefty amount of buzz on social media. Many might have believed it to be the writing of a human, if the robot didn’t identify itself in the first paragraph.

But critics of the article argue that this robot doesn’t actually understand what it’s saying or how all its points intertwine to form a solid argument. As a deep learning device, the Guardian’s bot is simply mimicking effective writing it’s been spoon-fed, which raises another ethical dilemma: if these bots do not really understand what they’re saying, if they’re simply simulating “good” reporting, can we still trust them with our news?

Financial articles have been written entirely by robots since as early as 2015, because the robots only have to compile numbers into simple sentences. The bot writing in this 2017 article from the Associated Press seems to pass the Turing Test. So, if these robots are able to take information and present it in basic human language, what happens when they are fed false information?

In their article “How Automated Writing Systems Affect the Circulation of Political Information Online,” Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee detail how deep-learning bots similar to the Guardian’s are able to fabricate believably human social media accounts and then amplify misinformation. Even though the robots may not know what they’re saying, we may be susceptible to believe them.

An essential question we must ask is: how transparent should news outlets be regarding AI writing? The financial article had a disclaimer at the end of the article, but who really makes it all the way to the end?

Moreover, we must consider where we draw the line in terms of what AI bots are allowed to write. AI bots like this one are already capable of writing student’s papers for them, while similar systems currently grade papers at universities. If academic writing simply becomes AI graders evaluating AI writers, then what is the point?

Ultimately, we must consider how to ethically integrate AI writers into our writing ecologies, as well as how to preserve the integrity of truth and authenticity in written discourse.Two white, robot hands rest on a white Apple keyboard. Various creases at the joints and tiny screws are visible on the hands.

How do you Google?

Technology has advanced leaps and bounds in the past 21 years- in the year 2000, internet was just beginning to be found in most homes and Apple was in process of releasing the first iBook. Now the internet is widely regarded as a utility, necessary on the same levels as electricity and water, and is readily available in almost every corner of the country.

Along with internet, technology has progressed on an even faster pace- smart phones have long ruled the roost, but smart homes are rising to popularity. From video doorbells to smart thermostats, managing the home has never been so easy. AI assistants, such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, also add to the convenience of home life. Questions can be answered by simply stating “Hey Google” or “Alexa” or “Siri” and the technology will scour the internet for the answers to you query in a matter of seconds without having to even touch a button.

Some people still prefer to type their answers and conduct their own web search, but the number of voice to text users is growing exponentially. A service once used as an adaptive aide for persons with disabilities, this technology opens a new door into the world of how we as a society utilize the internet and its effects on our daily lives. Common vernacular in my house hold is “Google it:” when in doubt, consult the internet! The information highway available previously at our fingertips is now even more accessible by simply speaking the question aloud and listening to the response.

Meme Weaponization & the Future of Warfare

It sounds silly, but memes might be the future of warfare. 

No really—disinformation online is a global concern with real-world impacts. Memes are just another weapon on the digital battlefield. 

I guess it’s not entirely correct to say that memetic warfare is a thing of the future. Because, well, it’s already happening.

Disinformation Kill Chain and Response Framework from Department of Homeland Security

Political memes shaped the 2016 presidential election – hate groups love hijacking memes and appropriating them into hate symbols – ASPI discussed the use of memes as propaganda for extremist movements in their Counterterrorism Yearbook 2021 – and NATO has repeatedly acknowledged the burgeoning threat information warfare poses (most notably here).

Memes have power. And bad actors are abusing them.

What is it that makes memes so damn easy to weaponize? Why are they this effective at spreading disinformation and influencing human behavior? 

It’s probably too complicated for me to address in a succinct and comprehensive way. But I can say, speed and audience size are big factors. 

Here’s the super-mega-ultra abridged version:

Troll factories, bots, and fake news all play a role in memetic warfare. 

As many of you already know, bots can reach a wide audience and require little time and effort from humans to do it. Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee put it best.

“Although social networks and online forums, where much of public discourse now takes place, enable greater access to participation for everyday writers…the current scene includes more aggressive intervention by nonhuman actors, such as bots, that generate writing. Humans are,  of course, usually responsible for authoring the computational processes that generate writing…, but by making certain aspects of online writing computational, human authors can typically operate with greater speed, scale, and autonomy”

Humans participate in propaganda, espionage, and the like. This isn’t new, certainly not to warfare. Instead of the traditional places, though, you can now find these dehumanizing tactics in memes. And it’s precisely because bots are so good at what they do.

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

History finds its way into entertainment

Film has long been a source of entertainment and is used as a platform to communicate a variety of messages. While some draw from historical events or real life happenstances, others are beautifully crafted works of complete fiction, such as the 2016 Oscar nominated science fiction film “Arrival.”

It focuses on a futuristic world where alien visitors arrive unexpectedly and Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) struggles to decipher a message being broadcast in various parts around the world.  While the world is filled with conspiracy theories concerning extraterrestrial visitors, there is real research behind the work in Arrival in decoding unknown languages. Denise Schmandt-Besserat published an article describing the earliest known written communications in the forms of clay tokens, presumed to represent various goods within ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Teams of archeologists compiled hundreds of artifacts and found similarities among many but with slight differences, indicative of an intricate economic system. Tokens were classified under six categories of shapes and then variations were further catalogued under each heading.

These ancient symbols had to be deciphered much like the alien language in the film and without extensive research they too would be unsolvable.

A Universal Language?

It seems that there is always talk of a universal language: a way to communicate with everyone, no matter where a person may be in the world. The simple answer as to why it has not occurred has to do with language’s relationship to culture. The extended answer being that Earth will most likely never have a universal language because of technical, scientific, as well as cultural factors.

In Thomas Devlin’s article, What is Esperanto, and Who speaks it?, he states that there are more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. With all of these languages existing around us, a Polish medical doctor, Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, created the language known as Esperanto, which was meant to “bring the world together as one (Devlin, 2).”

Esperanto was created on the roots of Latin in order to make it easier for those who speak languages that were born from Latin (Russian,Polish, English, German). Zamerhof’s idea was to receive feedback from others to evolve the language, and not place restrictions within it like other languages tend to do. While Esperanto seemed to have some advantages, those whose first language did not have strong European influences, such as Asian languages, were at a complete disadvantage.

Conspiracy Theory Keanu Reeves Meme On Animals Speaking a Universal Language  Language is identity. According to Jason Koebler in his article, Why a Universal Language Will Never Be a Thing, “for many groups of people, having a specific language is to say, ‘I exist’ (Koebler, 3).” Languages are important to culture and the way that those who practice said culture identify themselves. There even some languages, like Basque and Kurdish, that protect and preserve their language through enacting laws.

Languages will continue to evolve. As time passes and new generations come along, language will continue to change. Change can come from differences in pronunciation, new words being invented or borrowed, morphology’s disappearing or the meaning of old words become something different. As we continue to evolve and grow, so do our languages.

There are people who believe that universal language is portrayed not through spoken language, but on other mediums. Some believe music is a universal language; others believe love holds that spot; poetry is also considered to be a universal language. So what would categorize a universal language when comparing these three examples? They are all factors that move people, no matter one’s language or culture. Music, love and poetry may be the universal language. However, spoken language will never become one idea; that’s the beauty of it.The Arts are the Universal Language - Meme on Imgur

Camera On or Off? The Online Ecologies We Don’t Know How to Interact Within (Yet)

So, quick recap: when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many schools and universities went online and remain that way to this day. You know how it is. We’ve all been living it for what feels like forever and also somehow five minutes. 

With online school came the ubiquitous use of Zoom, the video conferencing application we’re all a bit too used to by now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely grateful for Zoom. Without it, I’d never have gotten the chance to continue my education. Until quite recently, no such technology existed that allowed professors and students to communicate across thousands of miles. 

Zoom Tips 2020 – The Patriot VoiceBut there’s one aspect of Zoom calling that I still just can’t get used to: being on camera. I’m confident many of my classmates feel the same way. While some professors (especially in small classes) require students to have their cameras on during class, many don’t, leaving the choice of “to show my face or not” up to students. Sometimes, students turn their cameras on so as to try to engage more with professors and show their attention. That makes sense to me. From an educator point of view, I can only imagine how disheartening it might be to talk to what looks like no one. Yet oftentimes, at least in my and many of my friends’ cases, entire lectures and recitation sections are nothing but a sea of black squares. 

Personally, I usually have my camera off, but not out of malice or lack of engagement in the class. I’m sure that’s the case for most students. But I still want to participate in my synchronous classes. The option that leaves me: asking and answering questions in the chat box feature.

The chat box has been a surprisingly useful tool for me over the last year, and from my and my friends’ experiences, it seems to have done the same for many other students. In my classes, people are constantly asking questions directed at our professors or TAs in the chat box. We’re also using it to talk amongst ourselves, in a sense. We know the chat isn’t private, yet students can often be found answering each others’ queries, reacting to things the professor said, and making jokes. The chat box has been a haven for people like me too anxious to turn on our cameras yet motivated enough to want to participate in class. 

I have a pet theory about why it seems like so many students prefer the chat to being on camera. I think it has something to do with how most of us are comfortable existing online: as text on a screen only, as a disembodied voice rather than a person on video in their bedroom wearing sweatpants. For a long time, the only way we as individuals communicated online was via written communication. Email, instant messaging, and onto early social media sites like MySpace and Yahoo. Nowadays, plenty of writing-based social media platforms are still popular: Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Facebook, and etc. 

New MySpace Logo More Inspired than Gap Logo - PR News

This phenomenon reminded me of some ideas from Marilyn Cooper’s article “The Ecology of Writing“. Cooper discusses how there are different “ecologies” for writing (and, more broadly, communication). These ecologies are vast webs of sociocultural know-how and discourse, and they effect how we as writers or speakers choose to convey our thoughts. Five interconnected systems compose every ecology: the system of ideas, the system of purposes, the system of interpersonal interactions, the system of cultural norms, and the system of textual forms. Audience is also an important part of Cooper’s model. According to the older school of thought– the cognitive process model– the audience of a text is an imagined entity in the mind of a solitary author. In Cooper’s ecological model, the audience are real readers with whom writers share and edit their texts.

I don’t think we as a society have decided how (or what) exactly these five systems are in the modern ecology of Zoom. I think we are trying our best to act according to previous systems that are actually part of different models. After all, the rules and mores under each of the five categories, all of which prop up the ecology of “school”, have changed due to the online format. How do interpersonal interactions work when the lag accidentally causes two people to talk over each other? How is a student to grasp at ideas without seeing, hearing, touching them in person? What are the norms of this place?

There is a precedent for online behavior and discourse. It’s just not Zoom. It’s an amalgamation of customs and conventions that developed over time across various online communication platforms. I think we students are relying on the conventions we’ve picked up over our time on different platforms to inform how we interact on Zoom. I think students who rely on the chat box feature are more comfortable using the textual form of the written word, as opposed to speaking up on camera. Which makes sense: the written word is a textual form most of us are comfortable with, and it’s been around online for a long time.

But speaking face-to-face is also a textual form most of us are comfortable with, so why is speaking up on Zoom so difficult sometimes? I think the answer might have to do with our conception of audience. When school is conducted in-person, students have no choice but to view their educators and peers as “real readers” with whom they can interact. We’re used to speaking aloud to real readers (or listeners). But on Zoom, I think we sometimes see our educators and peers as… distant. Unreal. Like imaginary people represented by squares on a screen. Like the audience posited by the cognitive process model. I don’t think most of us are used to speaking aloud to that audience. But writing to them? We do that all the time.

I guess only time will tell what the social mores of Zoom will become. Or, hopefully, it won’t. Chat boxes are fine, but I’d like to get back to an ecology I’m used to sometime soon. But at least our brief migration to Zoomland will have taught us a lot about ourselves and how we behave online.

Experiencing Bots in Everyday Life

While the world we live in today relies heavily on digital media and technology, the digital era has become more prominent amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Humans now depend on technology to work, to learn, to read and to obtain entertainment now more than ever.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) exists all around us, even if it may not be realized. IOS developer and Computer science graduate, Ilija Mihajlovic, talks about the impact bots have on our everyday lives in his article How Artificial Intelligence is Impacting our Everyday Lives.  He states, “AI assists in every area of our lives, whether we’re trying to read emails, get driving directions, get music or movie recommendations (Mihajlovic, 2).”

One place we experience the use of bots in our daily life is through digital assistants. First developed within iPhones as the well-known AI, Siri, digital assistants have since then been created through various platforms: Alexa, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and more. While these digital assistants may be used on different sorts of sites, they still all serve the same purpose, and that is to assist.

Although quite annoying, most people have likely encountered the security measures taken to enter most websites at least once. The websites that use these these types of security checks solidify their reason by saying “are you a robot?” We take the tests to ensure to the robots running the sites that we are not robots.

HackTX 2018 Puzzle 3: Shopping Cart | by Florian Janke | Medium

Some of the different security tests that we use include the image provided where you have to choose all the cats; a combination of letters and numbers that you have to type into an answer box; or simply just a check box with the phrase, “I’m not a robot,” beside it. While it has been said that bots may be grading and writing first drafts of our papers (according to McKee & Porter), they are still unable to distinguish the difference between a cat and a dog.

As our world continues to make technological advances, the use of bots in our everyday lives will become more substantial. Heidi McKee and Jim Porter discuss the role that many bots and AI’s will take in the near future in their article The Impact of AI Writing and Writing Instruction. Bots will eventually be used in the workplace and in our classrooms; but the question is: is it such a bad thing for our society to rely on the use of bots as we go about our day?