Considering Memes and Mashups: Visual Analysis On Your Own 'In Media Res' Site

Curator's Note

The In Media Res website provides a model for students studying media, film or visual rhetoric, offering the opportunity to closely analyze a work using the same rules and template that academics and other professionals follow. 

Recreating a writing platform approximating In Media Res is simple.  Using, I created the basic site with an available free template and appropriate widgets (Most Popular Tags, Authors, Blog Stats) and students joined the blog as writers.  A brief technical lesson on how to embed video and images prepared students to submit their piece, and while the site does not offer the word count limit built into the real In Media Res, that requirement can be included in the assignment. 

Students chose an Internet meme or mashup and wrote a 350-400 word post. External links were encouraged and students could embed multiple images. In their essays, students discussed relevant aspects of the meme/mashup and explained its meaning(s), focusing on the cultural or political relevance when applicable. I had previously introduced them to semiotic analysis.

The slideshow above includes many of the images chosen by the students, who chose humorous, political and/or racially-charged memes. One post discusses how ESPN's Mike and Mike produced a parody of Psy's Gangnam Style video that rapidly denigrates into racist stereotypes aimed at both Asian and African-Americans.  A second post focusing on the Texts from Hillary meme considers how the politician’s sunglasses make her “fabulous and sassy” and positions her for further political success.   A third post cleverly explains the popularity of “dog shaming” videos, while a fourth post reconsiders the effects of songifying Charlie Sheen’s interviews, which paradoxically minimizes his controversial behavior and recasts him as a legitimate celebrity. While some posts were insightful, others sometimes missed the nuances of the meme. However, in those cases, classmates' (and my) comments addressed other possible perspectives. 

Overall, this assignment allows students to practice skills associated with close readings. By requiring students to focus on a single meme or mashup, they more thoroughly analyze the meaning of a single text.  The brevity of the essays requires students to be concise while they create an argument, and the familiarity of the images encourages them to assert specific opinions about the relevance of the material. Most significantly, embedding images and video eliminates the need for a lengthy description and redirects the students' focus toward critical analysis.




Walking through a careful critique of the artifacts that students are (not always but usually) surrounded by is a great strategy. It teaches several subtle lessons, namely that everything's worthy of critical attention (not just scholarly "texts") and that the simple images of our everyday experience are actually culturally diverse and complicated texts. Establishing that work as part of a public discussion on a blog gives the conversation even more teeth. Students in this project understand that they have a legitimate audience, and they can imagine themselves as part of the audience rather than simply a writer who has been "forced" to write for that audience.

I like the idea of having all students do an "In Media Res" style piece. I do something similar with a lot of "case study" type assignments but I think the connection to a recognized publication would add an interesting element in terms of the status of authors (vs. Authors). Have you ever had any of your students go on to submit their pieces for an IMR theme week, Jeremy? Some of the most powerful moments in blogging or tweeting for my students arise when somebody completely unconnected to the class responds.

I have not had them go on to IMR, but I agree that having an outsider post really hits home the idea of writing for a larger audience. I'm hoping that my post may lead to that outcome for them. (Hint. Hint. :) )

Thanks for the post Jeremy. I've been considering how to incorporate this kind of thing in my classes. Many teachers are starting to use Moodle in this way, but it's not public. It seems like it can also work well for writing and journalism classes, for peer review, and generally providing practice with negotiating the pressures or responsibilities of doing "public" work. I wonder what limitations you might have found in terms of class size? This year my classes were 40 students and 90 students, and it seems like it could get unwieldy at that scale.

My class has 20-24 students, but except for the added work of inviting more students into the common Wordpress site, I think the assignment could scale somewhat--certainly up to 40. I could imagine how 90 students could start to become difficult, although you may be able to break this into several sites and give the students more agency in terms of creating their own Wordpress and inviting assigned a sub group of classmates into the blog.

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