When Big Media Aren’t the Biggest

My honours research proposal, as submitted to UoW:

My honours research will attempt to trace the spread of a variety of memes and motifs in digital media. It will not aim to provide predictive tools – though perhaps some will emerge – but instead to examine the common characteristics of cross-media memes and motifs. The proposed title is Peach is in another castle: cross-media propagation of digital motifs and memes. The reference to the seminal Super Mario Bros. videogames strongly hints at the ludic characteristics of many such memes and motifs, an aspect of digital culture that will feature prominently in the research. This delimiter, coupled with the cross-media specification, will ensure my examples are confined to specific locatable texts. Such confinement will benefit the project by providing a rich context within which to locate the research and ensuring it does not become too unwieldy. Additionally, this aspect of digital media remains largely unexplored in academia.

The place of memes within digital culture is coming under increasing scrutiny, with attempts by academics, bloggers and the press to theorise, predict and measure their spread. In academia, research teams such Xie et al (2011) have critically assessed the spread of visual memes in an ex post facto manner. Their research also proposes tools for measuring the spread and impact of such memes. Bloggers such as Soapscum (2009) have similarly proposed – apparently in jest – formulas to measure and predict memes. One such example is displayed below:

Despite such formulaic attempts to quantify digital memes, they remain elusive. Similarly, other recurring motifs of digital culture are difficult to predict and measure. As such, they promise an interesting field of research, especially in regard to the elusive ludic quality outlined briefly above.

This research will apply a number of communication theories, and may also borrow academic theory from other fields. The Uses and Gratifications model, which emphasises the role of the audience in interpreting and using messages, is appropriate in this field since the further spread of memes and motifs is (likely) dependent upon correct interpretation. Reception theories, which allow for segmented interpretations of media texts are also relevant, and may be applicable to explaining the spread of certain memes and/or motifs. The role of social feedback, and swarm behaviour in influencing the spread and reinforcement of memes and motifs is also worth considering. However, the appropriateness or otherwise of such theories is to be further discussed.

A range of research methods will be applied in this research. The exact methods will be negotiated with my supervisor, but it is likely that some content analysis and qualitative interviews will be required. This kind of research is unlikely to require large-scale collection of quantitative data from individual subjects through surveys or similar methods. However, quantitative data concerning the spread of particular memes (especially through the internet) may be sought.

(* I have excluded a paragraph relating to my proposed honours supervisor.)

References:

  • Soapscum, 2011, ‘MemeRev 1.0’, Soapdish [blog], accessed online 07/12/2011, available: http://goo.gl/kcv5A.
  • Xie, L., Natsev, A., Kender, J., Hill, M., & Smith, J. 2011, ‘Tracking Visual Memes in Rich-Media Social Communities’, Proceedings of the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, accessed online 07/12/2011, available: http://goo.gl/6K2kt.