Tweets and memes

Last weekend, I opened a dedicated Twitter account to go with this blog – essentially as a way of informing people that there are new posts. But the involvement of Twitter in the epitextual writings around my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!, also brings to the fore elements of the project that I have long been thinking about.

It came to me, during the heyday of my production of Batman memes in early to mid 2016, that the memes themselves were a little like tweets. That inspired me to make one meme, which I will not display here since I have to hold back a few good ones for the appearance of the book, in which Robin’s text is in the form of a tweet, #s and @s and all.

The resemblances stem from, though exceed, the limits to the amount of text one can use in both. With Twitter, the limit is hard and clear – 140 characters. With memes, the limit is what can be legibly imposed on the image. This is true for all image macro memes, but with Batman Slapping Robin, there is even less space than usual in the image  available for text, if one wants to include all the text in the speech bubbles. I frequently struggled to pare down the text I wanted to use to one I could make legible. A few memes just could not be pared down enough and I had to resort to other measures. In this meme (M.29 “… he was a jew,” published on Facebook on March 7th 2016), I both strained legibility almost to breaking point and overflowed the bounds of the speech bubble:


The image file I created is named “ulysses-third-version.jpg,” which tells you I went through three versions before getting to one I was (sort of) happy to post. The book will contain, as part of the parerga to the Batman Meme Project, an unpublished alternative version of the meme (my second try, in fact) in which I tried something radical as a way of handling the large amount of text. Here it is, making its first public appearance:


I do not like it, but there is an interesting point it raises which you will have to wait for the book to read about.

(While we’re at it, here is the first version which, I am now inclined to think, would have been better than the third version I published on Facebook:


I made relatively little use, throughout my memetic production, of different colored text in the two speech bubbles but I think it works well here, emphasizing the antiphonal nature of Joyce’s text. I must have rejected it because too much of the text was frankly and unabashedly outside of the speech bubbles. But that would have been better, more forthright, than the sneaking overflow in the version I went with in the end.)

In another, later meme, which again I hold back for the book, Robin shares the contents of a letter with Batman. The letter, perforce, takes several paragraphs to say what I want it to say. But how to get this lengthy text into the meme? In the end, I followed up the path I had started with the second version of the Joyce meme. There, I had typed the text into a word document and then screen captured part of the document and added it, as an image, into the speech bubbles. But I realized that the result would itself look like a letter, and in that case, would not need to be in the speech bubble. It could appear elsewhere in the image (as it happens, the lower left corner), partly as a pictorial representation of the letter itself, and partly as a way of introducing further text but not as spoken by either Batman or Robin.

This brings me back to Twitter. One of the main ways that people have of getting round the 140 character limit is to produce and attach an image which contains further text. For example, there appeared in my feed this morning this:

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 12.26.48 PM.png

The text is posted as a pictorial representation of text; we are given a picture of some text (though this tends not to be obvious when there is nothing but text in the picture). This, of course, is how text always appears in comics and memes (and Batman Slapping Robin draws on both memes and comics). This is one of the ways in which they are so interesting and I was certainly highly conscious of this in the creation of my memes. After all, to give just one example, the problem of getting the text inside the speech bubbles is a problem of spatial composition, not a textual problem at all.

I thought about this (the fact that the writing appears in memes, in the first place, not as writing but as image) a lot when I was writing about memes. Many people treat a meme as an image with words. But the modality of the with is crucial. The words must appear as an image, as part of the picture – not, for example, as an accompanying sound or stamped in braille. Compare these three ‘images with text’:



In the first, I have emphasized the pictorial way in which the writing appears by drawing the contents of the third, added, speech bubble by hand, and using multi-colored letters, to go with the psychedelic word “groovy.” In the second, there is a pictorial representation of the same text in braille. This is clearly a picture since braille is a tactile medium not a visual one. In the final version, the same text occurs (one cannot say “appears”) as spoken.

Oh, one final note on the link between Twitter and my Batman memes. As you will know if you’ve followed my writing about my book, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga! is very much about, among many other things, psychoanalysis. I learned a couple of weeks ago that my analyst sometimes uses Twitter. And it seems the algorithm knows everything because, within minutes of my creating the Twitter account to go with this blog, it was suggesting to me that I might like to follow them! How on earth could Twitter know? And did I really want to follow my analyst on Twitter?

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