M.12 “They’re Forgetting Slappy”

Here is one of the memes with the commentary that will form part of my book A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. (I published this on Facebook a while back but am now reposting it here on this blog.)

M.12 They’re Forgetting Slappy

Slappy

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M.12 They’re Forgetting Slappy Composed: February 24th. Posted: February 24th. Orientation: Reverse. Font: Arial. TB1: “It’s great! Now there’s also Love, Haha, Wow, Sad…”, black. TB2: “They’re forgetting Slappy!”, black.

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This was created and posted on the day that a range of new reactions, to augment the thitherto solitary Like, were introduced by Facebook.

Evnine seemed to devote a lot of thought to Facebook reactions. On the same day on which this meme was posted, he wrote another status update in which, because the number of available reactions were now six, he suggested using a die to determine which reaction to use. (His friend and former student Ryan Lake thereafter consistently responded to the postings of the memes with apparently random reactions.) Later, on May 8th, Facebook rolled out another reaction, Thankful (only available in some places, and temporarily, in honor of Mother’s Day), and this prompted the artist to post the following remarks:

I see today Facebook has a rolled out a new ‘reaction’ option – Thankful. My first thought was to post a joke about being thankful for the new option. But I’m not a thankful person in general and I will never use it – so I’m not thankful for it. However, all those who are likely to use it will, no doubt, be thankful for it!

What about the self-applicability of the other options? I do like the Like option, but I don’t love the Love one; I merely like it, and use it frequently. I do not laugh at (or with), or find funny, the HaHa option, though if it had been designed differently, with more verbal panache,[1] I might have.

I am not wowed by Wow (though I often use it); it’s really commonplace in both design and function. And I am definitely not angry about Angry! As long as there are people who applaud between movements in classical concerts or who park across the sidewalk and force disabled people into the grass to get around them, we need Angry. So I’m thankful for Angry.

Am I sad about Sad? I am sad that there is sadness, and hence a need for Sad. But, as Gavin Lawrence[2] used to ask (and maybe still does! I hope so, because it made a big impression on me, so thanks Gavin!), am I sad that I or others experience sadness when their loved ones are sick or dying? Do I wish for a world in which no-one dies? Would that mean wishing for a world in which no-one was born, or one in which the world got more and more crowded? I don’t know. So I don’t know whether I’m sad about Sad.

Finally, a plea for a new reaction button (are you reading this Ariel?[3]): Grelling Paradoxical!

The piece shows a keen rhetorical sense, undercutting its initial disavowal of thankfulness first with the explicit but playful thankfulness for the Angry reaction and then with the heartfelt acknowledgment of a former teacher.

The reference to Grelling’s Paradox is cute but not really appropriate. The paradox is one of the Semantic Paradoxes, so-called because they arise out of specifically semantic concepts. (The most famous semantic paradox is the Liar Paradox. See M.78 for a meme based on the Liar Paradox. Russell’s Paradox, a paradox for set theory rather than semantics, is described and discussed in M.22.) In the case of Grelling’s Paradox, the semantic concept at work (and what makes it, at least superficially, relevant to Evnine’s reflections on the Facebook reactions) is self-applicability. Some linguistic expressions apply to themselves and some do not. To say that an expression applies to itself means that the sentence you get by predicating the expression of itself is true. In English, a standard way to obtain a sentence that predicates an expression of itself is, first, to obtain a name for the expression (which we typically do by enclosing the expression in quotation marks or by italicizing it); and second, to write the expression itself, adding or not adding “is” where necessary to make a grammatical sentence. (Obviously, this procedure will only produce a grammatical sentence in English if the expression we start with is capable of functioning as a predicate in the final sentence. We cannot predicate “the” of itself. Neither “‘the’ the” nor “‘the’ is the” is grammatical.)

Here are some examples. “a linguistic expression” applies to itself. The following sentence, in which we predicate the expression of itself, is true:

1) “a linguistic expression” is a linguistic expression.

So also the result of predicating “in the English language” of itself is true and hence the expression applies to itself:

2) “in the English language” is in the English language.

Most expressions, however, do not apply to themselves (even if we restrict ourselves to those that can be predicated of themselves). “in the German language” does not. The following is false:

3) “in the German language” is in the German language.

Other expressions that do not apply to themselves include “a table,” “an adverb,” and so on. The following are false:

4) “a table” is a table,

5) “an adverb” is an adverb.

 

Now for the paradox. Consider the expression “does not apply to itself.” Does it apply to itself or not? If we predicate the expression of itself, is the resulting sentence true, like 1) and 2) above (in which case the expression does apply to itself) or false, like 3)-5) (in which case it does not)? Here is the sentence in question:

G) “does not apply to itself” does not apply to itself.

Suppose that G) is true. If it is true that the expression does not apply to itself (as G) tells us) that means that the sentence that results from predicating the expression of itself is false. But G) is the sentence that results from predicating the expression of itself. Hence, if G) is true, then G) is false! So suppose, instead, that G) is false. Since G) tells us that the expression does not apply to itself, if G) is false, then expression does apply to itself. That means that the sentence we obtain from predicating the expression of itself is true. But, again, G) is that sentence. Hence, if G) is false, then G) is true!!

Of course, all of this is, as noted, irrelevant to the question of whether the artist is thankful for the Thankful reaction, likes the Like reaction, and so on. Each of those claims might be true, or false, without paradox.

[1] [Editor’s note:] “Verbal” does not make much sense as applied to the panache proper to an image. Possibly the artist meant to write “visual.” On the other hand, the memes themselves contain, effectively, images of words, thus problematizing the relation between the visual and the verbal. (One might think that any writing consists of images of words, and in a sense, that is so. But in the memes, the visual aspects of the represented words are prominent in a way that goes beyond the typical visual aspects of writing: text color, outline, font, arrangement on the page, and, of course, the ubiquitous issue of the representation of certain punctuation marks. See the commentaries on… for more extensive discussion of this last point.) Although this text was not written during the period of the Batman Meme Project itself, the artist was still composing memes at that point and it is possible that he is making some allusion to this fact about them.

[2] [Editor’s note:] Gavin Lawrence was a teacher of Evnine’s when he was in graduate school at UCLA.

[3] [Editor’s note:] Ariel Evnine is the artist’s nephew and works at Facebook (hence the “are you listening?”).

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