With the proliferation of social media, internet memes have become a ubiquitous part of everyday communication. However, the power of memes cannot be fully understood without considering their role in the complex relationship between technology, space, and politics. This talk will conceptualize memes as cultural mapping tools—tools that chart out the cultural hierarchies in relation to spatial and political relations for their makers and users. Focusing on memes made by Palestinians in mixed cities, new Comparative Media Studies/Writing faculty member Sulafa Zidani will explore how memes function both in navigating the contested cultural and spatial politics and carving out space in the cultural landscape for youths’ aspirations. She concludes by discussing what we can learn from the absences in the memes, and how using memes as mapping tools can help us understand the cultural and political landscape in which meme makers operate.
As a scholar of digital culture, Sulafa Zidani writes on global creative practices in online civic engagement across geopolitical contexts and languages such as Mandarin, English, Arabic, Hebrew, and French. She has published on online culture mixing, Arab and Chinese media politics, and critical transnational pedagogy in venues such as Social Media + Society; Asian Communication Research; Media, Culture & Society; International Journal of Communication, and others. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, The Intersectional Internet II: Power, Politics and Resistance Online. Outside of the academy, Zidani is an accomplished public educator. As a facilitator for the Seachange Collective, she has led workshops on antiracism and social justice for organizations such as NowThis, Gimlet Media, The Onion, and The Writers Guild of America. Her public writing on popular culture and politics has appeared in Arabic and Anglophone publications.
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Sulafa Zidani 00:49
So I’m going to start with some background. And I can’t give you all the history of the Middle East region and I’ll talk that’s this short. But I want to give like a brief framing at least help introduce us to the things that are relevant to the talk. And then I’m going to talk about the means that I analyzed for this paper how I did that analysis. I’m currently also writing a guide on how to study memes. So it’s really important for me to make my methods more transparent and let people know what my process was and how they can also do it themselves. And then I’m going to tie that analysis to means as mapping tools, and what this concept means, what its implications might be an after that, we’ll open it up for discussion. So please know that you have time for questions. So an important question to start with is, what is a meme?
Sulafa Zidani 01:44
There are many definitions out there I use Limor Shifman’s definition, I find that it’s broad enough yet specific enough to work with Limor Shifman defines means as a group of digital items that share common characteristics of content, so the things that are in them, what they look like, their form, the way that they look, think about like text, does it have text does it not have text, and stands, which could be defined as the feeling that they convey or the mood that’s in them. And they were created with awareness of each other. So they’re sort of in conversation with each other, they’re a group, a meme cannot be just the one singular thing. And they’re circulated, imitated or transformed on the internet by many users. So that process of imitation and transformation is necessary. So with imitation, there are parts that are supposed to be kind of the same. But with transformation there, there’s an editing process that goes there, you change the caption, you might copy some parts and edit other parts. And many users is left here. kind of vague on purpose. Because you know, a lot of us are in some like chat groups that have maybe three or four people and meme start to circulate there. So many users could be a really small group of people. But we also all know means that go viral and are shared by thousands or millions of people. So many users can be a lot of different numbers. One example is the distracted boyfriend meme, which some of you maybe have seen floating around the internet I brought three examples here today. So as you can see, the content the image is the same in all of them, it’s imitated in all of them, the structure is limited is imitated and all of them but part of the content is different. So in the one on the top left, me is distracted from work by literally anything else. In the one on the top right, me again distracted by the groceries that I bought, with the pad thai $30 pad thai that can be delivered to my door I feel like we’ve all been there. And one of the buttons specifically dedicated to Heather maybe your cat is distracted by the very fancy castle that you bought for it that probably cost a lot of money by literally any cheap little box. Okay, and that memes that I focused on in this paper specifically, are images. But I also wanted to stress before I dig into this, that memes can also be videos we’ve seen videos on maybe TikTok or videos like music videos like Gagnam style, or even dances like the Harlem Shake, we’ve seen those turn into memes. Memes can also be a sentence. Who here has said or heard somebody say, thanks for coming to my TED Talk? So that’s an example of a meme that’s simply a sentence so they can take Many different forms and memes have been used across the world, both to reinforce and disrupt power relations.
Sulafa Zidani 05:09
Indigenous activists in Australia for example, use memes to bring together a movement against the ratio of indigenous people and raise awareness about the ways that Australian colonialism has been enacted over time. In China, internet users deploy creative content, including wordplay memes parodies, to express political dissent or criticism and participate in what’s become sort of a community ritual. Within the Arabic speaking context. Specifically, scholars have shown how memes can be used as tactical social actions, whereby the subaltern uses memes in their struggle towards justice. I’ve also talked previously in an article in the International Journal of communication about memes being part of a general cultural push, whereby youth use this type of creative online content to interfere in the direction of global cultural flows. And these theorizations of the political and cultural impacts of internet memes and for my analysis of digital culture as an extension of offline culture, rather than seeing the internet as a separate space. In fact, power relations from the so called offline can also be reproduced online. So I frame memes as digital culture artifacts that are created and circulated in a way that’s deeply connected to the social ties, and the cultural political experiences, and the everyday lives of the people who create them. It’s especially the case in the context of Palestinians who have been living under prolonged colonial rule, war, continued civic unrest, etc. But that’s the separation between online and offline becomes even more muffled. In this paper, I argue that memes can be conceptualized as mapping tools that chart out the connection between cultural, political and spatial boundaries, and participate in a playful negotiation of these boundaries. I think this framework is particularly useful for investigating names in circumstances where space culture and politics are under constant change in negotiation. So I give the example of Palestine here, but I think there are many contexts that are all contexts maybe where this type of framework could be useful. Palestinian mean makers, specifically, navigate the dynamics of living under settler colonialism, global capitalism and marginalization at the local and global levels, as well as their own cultural concerns. People want to talk about Palestinian diversity, gender equality, and youth issues maybe that have to do with generational differences, being a student in a different town, popular culture that there are fans of, although new media technology are built on the assumption of connection, through this embodiment from space, space is actually central to their forum and their content. Scholars on digital culture and Palestine problematize the assumption that new media technology will bring with them a democratizing promise. Palestinians have used new media technology to recast ideas of access to land and space through, for example, creating online tours of Al Aqsa Mosque, or digitized oral history and archives. This use is important for Palestinians and other indigenous communities across the world, where colonial power enforces a disconnection from the land through an eraser of the history of indigenous cultures connection to that land. This limits access of indigenous people up to certain places, and segments the indigenous population. The new media technology, in this way become part of a larger matrix of power in which Palestine borders are continually constrained. Israel is getting expensive and the European Union’s get fuzzy. I’m drawing here from how the four wheel stories work on this specific triangle of power.
Sulafa Zidani 09:32
How about the real story rights? From the perspective of Palestine, a core contradiction arises as a backdrop against which to understand information communication technology infrastructures, the containment of Palestinians, in narrowing and disconnected spaces, occurs at the same time, that high tech globalization is positive as the route to openness through which to overcome that fragmentation and containment. In other words, new speciality and bordering mechanisms are created, while others are eradicated. by outlining the ways that borders are simultaneously expanded and controlled in the advent of new media technology called wheeled, sorry, demonstra demonstrates that, as she puts it, the technological is spatial, political, and the spatial political is also technological. This technological spatial political relationship, which is what I’m going to call it for short, is manifested online through vague platform policies. discriminatory artificial intelligence, on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, for example. Amal Nazzal, who I think I have here wrote about this, Palestinian youth also use tik tok to connect with each other and promote their own culture. But a lot of times they get met with backlash and comment sections, or even get their accounts removed from the platform. So the experience of Palestinians on social media platforms tends to be sort of a mixed one, where they’re able to form community and celebrate their culture, and do creative things on one hand, but at the same time, they’re received much backlash, either by the state by online trolls, or platforms themselves. And what I wanted to see is where where do memes fit in this technological, spatial political relationship? What are they doing for people who make and share them? And what do they do in the space specifically, of mixed cities? So to answer this question, I focused on three Instagram pages, two main pages from mixed cities that are situated in the north of Israel, Haifa and Nazareth memes and one more page that’s devoted, dedicated to life on the inside, that doesn’t mean jail. The inside refers to the borders that were established by Israel in 1948. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it’s called aldaakhil in Arabic. And so that pages name is mess on the inside, which is where I drew the title for the article. And all of these three pages have 1000s of followers, and posts regularly, I kind of want it to engage with meme accounts that are active and popular. And I chose the latest 50 relevant memes from each of these Instagram accounts to analyze, but a post that weren’t relevant were removed. So the way that I determined what’s relevant is post had to be considered a meme. So if there’s simply like a screenshot sometimes, me my counsel posts like a screenshot from the news or something like that. And there was no process of imitation transformation, or something like that. So that wasn’t considered a meme. So I dropped it from the corpus. In addition, I also filtered out posts that focused only on topics that were not relevant to the spatial political relationship that I was looking at. So there were a lot of posts, because of the timing of when I wrote this, there are posts about COVID-19 that were just about, like, wearing your masks under your nose or over your nose. So stuff like that, that had nothing to do with the context outside of COVID-19 are mask wearing, that didn’t mention any specific group or culture or city or politician or something like that. I removed those posts, they were likely also copied from other accounts, but I had no way to determine that.
Sulafa Zidani 13:52
But yeah, so if post this past COVID-19, but within the context of people’s relationship, to culture to the state to the city itself than those I left in, and people often often ask me about this. So I went ahead and shared this image here to explain that in my process, here, I included the visual part, so the image of the meme, or for those folks who are at home, you can see it on the right side of the screen. And I also included the caption that’s at the bottom, or the rationale behind this was that the text was often not edited onto the image. It’s like it’s much quicker if you screenshot an image and then instead of having a caption on the meme, you just use the caption below. So there were some names that were image only and the caption below have to be included because I didn’t want to miss out on any commentary or a lot of times that’s where the butter the joke was and for my and now I based it on criteria that came up from the meetings themselves as well as from the academic literature on digital media and space in Palestine, some of which I mentioned earlier. And the criteria noted things like places like towns, neighborhoods, cities, countries, cultures and subcultures that were named in the memes. Politicians, celebrities, any figures that appear or are mentioned in the mean, languages that were included and other keywords that helped me identify recurring themes. And for I have two notes kind of here very briefly related to the analysis that I understand space as kind of socially negotiated and socially constructed, is based on doing Massey’s work and memes as a geographical concept, which can be used as a methodological tool that’s suited for the analysis of popular culture discourses that transform social practices, in spite of their apparent superficiality and triviality. So here, Davey Johnson is talking about memes in general, and not specifically internet memes. But I use this concept to kind of connect it to how space is socially negotiated. And memes can be part of that negotiation. I organize the data based on three themes, which we’re about to go into, but I’m going to give like a brief kind of overview to for you all to see the meta picture of these three levels. The themes aren’t always mutually exclusive. So I kind of organize the data, but they can also be their memes you will see that might belong in more than one. And First we have the global level that reflects how they navigate and intervene in global political dynamics. And seeing that the timing of this analysis, so when I was writing this, it was like, December, January, February, and then like I did revisions later, but the article is already written and the data was already collected. And because that coincided with the global covid 19 pandemic. And there were certain like big global events such as the US brokered agreement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, it’s not surprising that there were a lot of meetings that commented on sort of these things that were happening around them. The second level is a state level where I examine memes framing of issues that involve local institutional politics. So with the Israeli state, the Knesset, then there was also like, ongoing elections, there’s a series of like three or four elections in a row that were happening at the time that I was collecting the data. And the third level was that both ingroup Palestinian diversity. So this level looked at the ways that Palestinian diversity was reflected through the memes, both in terms of how memes as a group portrayed a diverse group of people. But beyond representation, it was also about what intentional steps people took to emphasize that cultural diversity and invite people from different places people with different dialects to join in on the new conversation. And this is the part where we’re going to dig in, and the part where we’re going to see a lot of names. So if you’re here for that, this section is for you.
Sulafa Zidani 18:27
Okay, so we start with navigating global dynamics, many memes ref, referencing US politics and popular culture. Sometimes these things also intersect, right. So reflecting. This reflects the dominance basically of the US on the global cultural stage. It’s not surprising since us institutional politics directly impact the politics in Palestine, Israel and the larger region. And the way that this came up is that many names use images of us politicians in funny like mash up content, or for the purpose of just participating in a certain trend. So the Bernie meme went viral after the original image was taken during the inauguration of Joe Biden as President. And here we see Bernie wearing his mittens we can barely see them in because they’ve been replaced by the Palestinian coffee. This meme was accompanied by a caption in Arabic It was a club, which means like it’s super cold, literally memes it’s cold as dogs but that’s it just memes it’s really cold. Either memes also expressed lack of confidence in us politicians, both in their impact in our own countries or here, and in the possibility of them having halting the empowerment of oppression locally. So former US President Donald Trump was a common figure in these memes. Which is also not surprising Like I think we’ve seen less Trump memes and less Trump tweets since the election, they kind of toned down but at the time that I was doing this work, they were still circulating and Trump was still tweeting I believe. So this mean for example, on the left, it says it’s like a fake tweet, which fabricates the tweets. So this isn’t a real tweet that Donald Trump shared on it says you can take all the status and all the profits Just let me have the homeland. And the caption then said, I am a citizen. But this you know, is sarcastic because it is the exact opposite of what he practiced during this time in office. The meme on the right, uses Trump’s tweet stop account to kind of make fun of what happens on a night out when you see the waiter calculating your bill. And I think this was specifically about downtown Haifa. And the normalization of Israel’s relationship with Bahrain and the UAE was another global political issue that came up in the meetings memes graded periodical scenes, mocking their relationship and emphasizing their lack of access to enjoy the perks, that it might provide certain people. The text in these in a lot of these names and captions repeated that they meaning the mean makers or mean circulators can’t afford a trip to Dubai themselves. And they also made fun of Haifa as so called rocket which looks a lot like the Dubai’s version, which is a really famous Hotel in Dubai. I have a picture coming up next. So here we have, I’m gonna move this for folks who are in the room. So we wrote people making fun of they’re making fun of themselves to write there’s like a comment on class status here and on money. She can’t afford to travel to Dubai, you can take Haifa’s light rail, and go to downtown, where you can see the Ministry of Interior that has this building that really resembles […]. And this image is of an Emirati person. When they come to Haifa, and they see this building, they’re really mad. And this is kind of again, marking kind of a class difference. And who has money who doesn’t have money. So it sounds when you start a night in downtown Haifa and finish it in Dubai. And for those who aren’t familiar. So this is Haifa. And this is Dubai. So the buildings do look a lot alike. And this has been like an ongoing kind of mockery thing. Since the building was built in the early 2000s, I believe.
Sulafa Zidani 22:56
An important thing to know to notice about the dominance of us culture and meme culture, is that what it does, it makes it so that participating in meme culture necessitates a level of fluency in US popular culture. And this necessity for fluency in US culture is exemplified in the use of trending memes. So we saw the burning Donald Trump stuff. But also, there are a lot of memes that use movies and television shows. So people need to kind of be acquainted with whatever is trending in the US meme culture, but also in US popular culture and politics in general. So there are a lot of memes that us like the office, I don’t know I can think of like the Spider Man meme where it’s pointing. There are a lot of Game of Thrones names, etc. On the other hand low, despite us culture, kind of having that dominant status. It’s also notable that many names mix languages and cultures. And although us cultural fluency is a prerequisite for participating and main culture, mixing English into Arabic, wasn’t really encouraged. In fact, the memes kind of drew a hierarchy of languages that intersected with class and gendered connotations. So colloquial Palestinian Arabic dialect was put kind of as the preferred choice as the main speakers class choice. And force ha, also known as Modern Standard Arabic was portrayed as the hipster choice or the overly intellectual kind of snobby choice. If anyone in this room speaks or is learning Arabic, just FYI, this is what the mean makers say. It’s not me. Mixing English was portrayed in the memes as being either classist or trying to associate with a higher class. So whether you’re making it or not, I don’t know. It was also portrayed as less masculine. And so was mixing Hebrew mixing Hebrew was marked as an attempt to overcompensate or sometimes was associated with fragile masculinity or kind of trying too hard. Ultimately, Palestinian makers use of global political and cultural content and means reflects kind of their positionality the place where they stand. While it’s also a way for them to intervene in that reality and rethink that hierarchy and place themselves within it. They reassigned meanings to the cultures and politics that they are consuming but also creating, it’s a way to understand or make sense of the space around them and the cultures around them, but also to move between these cultures and these spaces. So the lack of confidence in politicians that I mentioned at the global level, extended itself also to Israeli state politics, including Palestinian members of the Knesset as well. When it came to Israeli political figures, like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still Prime Minister at the time that I was doing this work memes plant a type of hypocrisy, whereby politicians in general reach out to Palestinians for votes, but without taking any actions to improve the situation of Palestinians living in Israeli cities, or towns or neighborhoods on the ground. The memes expressed the deficiency in resources and infrastructure that impact the Palestinian community. This name addresses in Haifa, specifically citing the different treatments and resources that Palestinians in neighborhoods like our bus, and wedding mismas get from the municipality. These are predominantly policy and neighborhoods, a word which is at the very bottom here, this window. So historically Palestinian neighborhood. And on the other side of that, we have neighborhoods like a predominantly Jewish Israeli neighborhood that are getting sort of a better treatment of the Haifa municipality.
Sulafa Zidani 27:19
And again, I want to remind everyone that when I was writing this, just to give some context, the State of Israel is headed towards its fourth election in two years, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had won the past three elections, but only by a margin, and nearly failed to create a government coalition between different parties. And much of this process is kind of reflected in the memes. There are memes like about voting about elections about campaigning, a series of memes pointed directly towards nothing Yahoo’s efforts, they talk about Netanyahu, how he intends to milk errands, and play games with people and attempt to learn some Palestinians into voting for him or to trick them into voting for him. So we have this meme on the left here we see an image of Netanyahu I think you can see more clearly on the Instagram account itself for some reason that screenshot didn’t capture that word very well, but he’s playing soccer on the beach and it says, I’m gonna play ball with you or like I’m gonna use you to play ball. And on the right here, we have a game of chess, where I think the key piece here is Salama like from like a mispronunciation of a Salaam Alaikum. I think there was a speech that Netanyahu gave where he tried to say hello in Arabic, but it was Miss pronounced. And so me makers are kind of mocking that effort that like oh with a single misspelled word you think you’re going to trick people into voting for and that’s not it memes also expressed a lack of confidence in Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset. Many of them of those members were portrayed in a mocking or parodic way. This was especially the case for the joints list of Padma mushara and alliance that was formed in 2015 between parties that have a Palestinian majority in the Knesset, it was sort of a strategy that maybe if we create a joint force that has all of these for Palestinian majority parties, maybe they will get kind of a better seating in the in the Knesset. Um, so memes were used to criticize certain Knesset members point to their inauthenticity and hypocrisy. The example here shows mon suitableness a common sugar and the memes not so what our boss was mean, but like she there were like a few folks who are mean the lot. This guy was separated from the Muslim party, his Muslim party, from the joint list that was created 15 and he’s portrayed a lot in memes as someone who’s willing to go to extreme lengths just to gain political power, even if that memes betraying his own people’s interest. And here Abbas is criticized for cozying up to Netanyahu, his family and doing whatever Netanyahu asks them to. So here we have nothing at home, his wife Sarah, and their son yet you’re on the magic carpet. And some more context of like, since I wrote this thing, one sought our best split from the joint list completely, I hate created a united arab list that actually is only his party. And this, this party was instrumental to forming the Israeli Knesset coalition in June of 2021. So he kind of stayed on brand and actually ended up helping form the current Israeli Government coalition. memes also raised issues concerning cultural erasure. So we already saw kind of this new or the spoiler alert earlier, they commented on the practice and which dynasty appropriate foods like hummus and falafel and the one here kind of reflects this long standing tension that arises from claims of homeless and falafel as Israeli food, using an image from the January six insurrection in the US Capitol.
Sulafa Zidani 31:30
This brings me to that third section, navigating the policy and experience and cultural diversity. So memes also express the diversity of Palestinian culture and subcultures within that culture, as well as common experiences of Palestinian youth. And by use, I mean, the people who are creating and circulating the memes, if I have to guess their ages, I would say it’s maybe 16 to 30, something like early 30s. a recurrent thing, for example, consistent of memes that we’re mainly concerned with the student experience a college student experience. Many Palestinian students leave their hometowns or for universities, in cities like Haifa, Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem. Or even to study abroad. Jordan is like a very common place for people to go study or gene and the last thing, and they return to their own hometowns, on the weekends. And they refer to it as invalid, which just memes the town but that’s how we refer to our hometowns. And honestly, a whole paper could be written about these like, university versus ballad memes or the student experience memes people commented on the difference between their town and their university town, they should experienced like, looking for apartments in a crowded, expensive city, living on a low budget, shopping online on a low budget, asking parents for money every week, or doing laundry at home, which I also did in college. And memes show how youth make sense of these different cultures that they are navigating, and the cultures that exist in each one of the universities. So here we have an example on the right, pointing out how people dress in Haifa University, versus a kind of less formal dress that’s common to the technique. I went to the Hebrew University I’d say it was more on the Technion side of things. I’m here we have Bernie Sanders, I think a lot of us saw this meme. It’s from the Bernie Sanders campaign. And here you have kind of a university student going home to ask their parents for money yet again. And memes also included captions that are calling on people from different places around Palestine, acknowledging not only the diversity of the followers of the specific account, and the fan base of the main account, but also the mobility of people within Palestine and how they move around counts them. the right kind of shout outs to people from different cities or towns, using their local dialect, inviting them to participate. So for example, I’ll give an example of the town of coffee farmers or like people would say like, hey, like, Where’s the people? Where are the people of coffee? Like, tell us how you say this phrase or something like that. And the caveat I’ll mention here is that not all memes are like disrupting oppression and creating an inclusive environment. There’s really it’s really a mixed bag. I definitely saw some memes. I would say that they’re a minority, but they did exist, that were sexist and homophobic. These types of names that have marked women commenting on like makeup habits, how people pose for photos and others. Kind of stereotyping portrayals some names associated being gay with a lack of masculinity in a way that can reinforce toxic masculine and homophobic attitudes. And there are also kind of cultural rivalries that came across in the memes. So here we have the Haifa University versus Technion rivalry. There’s Nazareth versus Haifa. heartless pediment neighborhood that we saw earlier versus downtown, kind of pointing to different comparisons. Use comparison comparisons, highlight what kind of I already alluded to a little bit before that these memes are both reflective and also function for navigating these spaces. So who gets to go where? Or how should you behave when you go somewhere. So in this meme, we see someone from Nazareth. And if they go, how they behave in order to fit in, if they go to Haifa. So this name basically portrays the process of code switching by using are these guns. So on the left side, we have a person from Nazareth when they’re in Nazareth. So they’re the swole dog, the larger and more muscular dog.
Sulafa Zidani 36:17
And they’re using like heavy Nazarene, slang, saying things like I’m telling you, I’ll beat him up. And then when the when the person from Nazareth goes to Haifa, they become smaller. Suddenly, they’re mixing English using words like vibe and downtown, and again, portrayed perhaps as less toxic masculine and more trying to confirm with an conform with the environment that surrounding them. Memes as mapping tools then chart out the social stratification and indicate where the boundaries are drawn between different social groups and subgroups within the group of Palestinian youth. They tell us how people from these different subgroups might experience space when they move in, and who gets to go where and mixed states. In addition, they show us who holds power to decide regarding mobility and regarding resources and infrastructure. Mixing popular culture and current events, memes Connect livid experience of culture, to the discourse that’s around it, and create an intervention in it. I suggest memes as mapping tools that introduce their consumers to the lay of the land, culturally, politically, and spatially speaking, and allow their producers to comment on an intervene in those spatial and political dynamics memes draw out not only the different spaces of neighborhoods, cities, and the world, but also map out the social stratification related to the spatial politics, answering questions like who can and can’t navigate these spaces easily or smoothly. Poe holds power in these spaces, who decides where resources go? Or to present some more concrete examples? Or some more concrete examples based on the memes that we saw? Who owns downtown Haifa on a Thursday night? Who is and isn’t welcome. In downtown, which neighborhoods in Haifa are thriving? Which ones are drowning? How does a person from Nazareth need to act in Nazareth? And how do they need to act in Haifa? Where do Palestinians stand on the chessboard or the soccer field of Israeli politics memes made by Palestinian youth in Israel mapping out the cultural and political terrain showing where they stand on this map their positionality in a complex web of cultural politics and political dynamics, and how they move within that cultural, political and spatial landscape. They’re prepared precarious citizen status, which I talked about a little bit more in the article, I’m sure interested is also reflected in the complex experience that’s mapped out through the memes that they make, which demand deep knowledge of the space the languages, dialects, culture and subculture, ways to behave and navigate the space smoothly were to go for better resources or to find spaces with people who have similar values. The urban spaces of Haifa, Nazareth, just like the rest of the region, region are continually changing and being contested. Both Haifa and Nazareth are rich in Palestinian history and cultural life. Although the cities are technically mixed, housing both Israeli Jewish population and the Palestinian population, the neighborhoods remain largely segregated. In the recent few years, Polly withers writes about this can’t remember if I put a quote on
Sulafa Zidani 39:57
the recent few years in Haifa, notably there has been a process where middle middle class youth are kind of refashioning urban spaces into enclaves that center Palestinians and their culture and where Israeli Jewish citizens are considered guests. And so memes are part of this larger process. The main content from these mixed cities is in line with narratives that break what’s been labeled the myth of coexistence. The Ana Bhutto wrote in The New York Times recently about this myth that Palestinians and Israeli Jews and mixed cities are a model for coexistence. The memes that I looked at here draw a picture where policy and an Israeli choose to not spend time together in the same spaces and did not receive the same rights or infrastructural resources. The memes in this corpus mix popular culture from different parts of the world, and some of them notably, mixing cultures and languages becomes a way to celebrate or point inwards towards either problems or issues within Palestinian culture itself. Popular culture that’s coming predominantly from the US then is oftentimes used or deployed as a memes for navigating the local cultural landscape. That’s usually at this point that I asked what’s at stake. So the conceptualization of memes as mapping tools, acknowledges that memes are implicated in the relationship between the spatial, political, and technological.
Sulafa Zidani 41:30
I think it’s the site.
Sulafa Zidani 41:33
Bear with me, almost done. memes as mapping tools helps us draw the connection between digital culture to space and life in cities. The conceptualization of memes, as cultural mapping tools also complicates the idea that new media technology is going to necessarily be a laboratory force, or a democratizing force. This framework can show us how memes meme culture is simultaneously creating new possibilities for inclusion and celebration, while it can also reinforce existing systems of oppression, as we saw with the examples that reinforced sexism or homophobia, but new media has been and still is also leveraged to combat the segmentation that’s enforced by settler colonialism. Using memes as mapping tool can allow us to assess where that cultural segmentation stands at a certain moment in time. And from a specific cultural perspective. What these names accomplish here is carving out room for Palestinian youth within these cultural spaces that are difficult to navigate, or where they experienced risks or limitations memes become part of that process that Polly withers talks about, of refashioning urban spaces into enclaves that center Palestinians and their culture. So they use digital culture vernacular as part of a larger cultural shift to make room for and maintain the connections across Palestinian culture. For example, by inviting participants with different accents and from different towns, may makers push for recognition of Palestinian live experience, and hold space for their cultural diversity. The memes map out Palestinian youth aspirations for their culture, politics, their desired values, they draw hard boundaries, when it comes to politicians, Israeli or Palestinian or global, that are promoting settler colonialism and working against the interest. They point to a clear direction of which they think justice would look like having fun with cultural diversity, equitable distribution of rights, resources, and a stop to Colonial ratio and cultural appropriation.
Sulafa Zidani 43:52
So some final thoughts to close. I’m on a personal note, kind of this is my first time writing about Python. This is a city where I grew up. And I was writing about it, as I mentioned, during covid, 19 pandemic, when they didn’t seem to be a prospect of visiting, there are a lot of memories that came up during that time, a lot of important political things that were going on. And those things can make the writing process very interesting. So I just kind of wanted to throw it out there because I recognize that I’m not the first and definitely not the only one who has a personal experience like that, and just wanted to make that process less invisible. And as I mentioned, this article has just been published and information, communication and society. So please check it out. If for any reason you don’t have accidents, shoot me an email. It’s part of a special issue that they just published about meanings and politics. So if this is a topic that interests you, in general, there are plenty of cool papers to check out and kind of where this To talk about where this work might go in the future. One is, I will continue to explore meetings that are made by Palestinians. I think this is a very important area to study. There’s a lot of complexity there. It’s not an area that’s been explored. And a lot has happened again, since I wrote this December, January. It’s kind of crazy to think how we then you know, the big turmoil that went on I think, started in April, May was that wonder what’s happening. And then June, there was elections, and things kind of continued to happen and change all the time. And so the memes also change their new trends and new things to write about. So I do think about publishing a follow up article, and your questions and ideas today might help carve out the direction that that might take. And for people who are thinking about memes as mapping tools, I might also recommend kind of a more narrow focus both for myself and for you. Since this paper was kind of the first one on Palestinian memes I went and explored the accounts, as is, and covered so many different things, and so many different small ideas here and there. And I think now that I’m reviewing it, I’m like, oh, each one of these can actually benefit from being focused on and being kind of a soul topic could be a paper on its own. So the message that I would want to leave you with today is that memes and digital culture, in general, are part of our space. They’re in a role in relationship with our space, going back to that technological, spatial, political relationship. So how do we make sense of this relationship? I’d be interested to see, for example, what image of the world do memes draw? How could they now How could they dictate what where we go in the world, or other ways that technology is used to reinforce them to profit and disrupt oppressive power dynamics on the ground? And again, I want to end by thanking everybody for listening. Thank you, Andrew. I think we made it through. And we’ll open it up for q&a now. But I’m gonna put my email up here. If I know we have some folks online as well. If you feel like reaching out, please be in touch. Thank you. Welcome, Justin.
Justin Reich 47:34
We just do this together. Okay. I can just sort of help.
Sulafa Zidani 47:39
I think I can see me on multiple screens.
Sulafa Zidani 47:41
So good. Questions? Can people raise their hands? Or should they just type in the chat? What’s the remote? Yes.
Andrew Whitacre 47:52
Yeah. How so remote? I think the question is, are you gonna? Yeah, yeah.
Justin Reich 47:59
Great. So we’ll take a few questions from the room, while the people online should feel free to type your questions in the chat. And Andrew will flag us when we have some good ones. But, I mean, that was terrific. So I have some questions that we have to start with.
Ian Condry 48:25
To me, really interesting. How we can understand the effect of are having I know, it’s really hard to know the kinds of effects. I wonder what we might point to or there’s some ways it’s me, I agree. They’re political. They certainly map the cultural boundaries. Gender we see national state politics, global politics. often wondered, though, that given the kind of snarky attitudes, you know, that, does that kind of undermine a little bit or, you know, start, he could be pretty political too. It doesn’t necessarily make it not political noise is a bit of a distancing that goes on with the Snark aspect of it. And then nobody is just finding or, you know, and so it’s, that’s the general question of, and I agree that there are political but, but I can also imagine the criticism that they’re not that or they can’t really have that, but it’s Quicken ism. It’s like, whatever it is that you know, it’s that it’s not real political action school. So that’s the question and part of it too is do you talk to the people who interpret these names? You know, we didn’t get a lot of voices of people who say, Oh, yeah, when I saw this team that really did this for me or did that For me, that might be a way of giving me a little more meat on the bone for what types of reactions people have besides asking as a college student, we, we come up with lots of ideas, we don’t trust any of them. So we can talk back to
Sulafa Zidani 50:17
us. Yeah, so
Ian Condry 50:19
I’m wondering about that.
Sulafa Zidani 50:20
Thank you. Oh, well, first, it’s nice to meet you for the first time meeting. Um, and, okay, the first part of your question was sort of about the effects of memes. And I think it’s, you know, this is the business of, like, proving causality, right. And it’s hard, like, unless someone tells me like, I did this, because I saw I mean, this was the main reason like, before that I had no idea I was gonna do it, and then I did it. And this hasn’t happened to me in that interview yet. So I cannot prove causality but kind of the wider question of thinking about are they political? Or are they not think this is also up for negotiation, like, I define politics very broadly. And for me, like participating in culture and being part of a cultural shift, you know, you’re pushing you might be, you know, you might not be pushing and like a super strong way, but you’re sort of pushing a little bit. And to me, that is political, especially that a lot of people might be navigating a very sensitive kind of area where either their own safety or their work or something might be at risk. So that very small push is also kind of political. But I know that for some people political is about to be outside with a sign. And so and some of those people are doing both, like I maybe not in this case, specifically, I don’t know. Like, those memes there was meme accounts specifically or anonymous. Like I’ve not been able, despite being from Haifa. And it’s like a small community, I haven’t been able to crack who is doing Haifa news. You guys find out let me know. But I’ve done interviews for my dissertation. And I agree, it’s interesting. things come up. A lot of times it like maybe confirms what I’m thinking or gives me new ideas. Sometimes their ideas that like keep coming up that I’m like, trying to push away, and then I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna have to deal with this, like a lot of people talk about memes as their own language or universal language. I remember working on my dissertation and kind of trying to steer clear from that like lingua franca metaphor, but people kept mentioning it. So I like okay, this is what people are saying, and this is important. But I am, since those memes meme accounts specifically, were anonymous. I kind of didn’t want to, you know, broach people’s anonymity without their concern in any way. Thank you.
Audience Member 53:01
Glad you mentioned that. I was gonna ask about salary in a way that are very specific. Great to be able to are about identification. Question for you as a scholar. [Unintelligible]
Sulafa Zidani 53:57
Yeah, thank you for that question. I think well, one is like my positionality in this case, I think really helps me understand and interpret, especially writing this while like not being able to be there physically at writing about space, I think it’s interesting. And in terms of bringing memes to a different context. So in my work, but context is really important. So I do a lot of contextualization. And I’m writing that was kind of one of my beefs with reviewer two in the process of writing this article is like, I’m giving as much contextualization as I can, especially in a region where things are changing constantly. So I’m not trained as a historian at all, I don’t really have that skill. But I was trying as best I can to capture like, that’s why I keep saying like, it captures what was going on in the moment. And even though this is a meme that you can still go to the account, and you can still see under the timing of when it was posted and when it was shared is also important. And even now kind of the context that I was giving through That’s not the article that since it was written, also matters of like, Okay, what ended up happening? Like, what do we know now that we didn’t know then. So I understand that for someone who’s not familiar with the context, it can kind of be a little bit disconnected. But I think it’s, you know, they’re worth exploring, because they also teach us about either other places or their context. Other ways, that memes that us, at the end of the day, I’m not a historian of Haifa, like at all. And my goal is to really look at digital media. And to really understand it, I think it takes stepping out of kind of the dominantly familiar things. So yeah, that’s my take on.
Justin Reich 55:47
One of the things that you showed us in the memes was, I mean, some of these meanings, I mean, they’re global. So they’re universal, but you know, the sort of like, I’m looking over
Sulafa Zidani 55:57
the Bernie meme, or Yeah, like, distracted boyfriend,
Justin Reich 56:01
distracted boyfriend seems like particularly universally, like all human beings get distracted by things. Or even the sort of baby drowning returns in the old person under the sea. Yeah. But it seems like part of what happens in the memes is you take these things, which should be universally recognizable, and then you add some kind of in-joke to them that that renders it somehow only possible, like a very small group of people. Yeah. What like, what’s the appeal? What’s the appeal of taking something universal? and making it? Like, why not? Why not make your own jokes with the with the draw? Do
Justin Reich 56:39
That mean, it’s kind of funny thing to take a universal thing and make it only funny to, you know, whatever, 12 people?
Sulafa Zidani 56:46
Yeah, I think, you know, like those memes actually, like, those counts have a bigger following than some of the things that I explored for my dissertation. So I think actually, like, looking at memes that are maybe not necessarily trying to go viral. Like I interviewed people who are like, I’m not really trying to have more following. I made this account because I was sending my friends names on the chat group and they told me Well, why don’t you make this account, and then slowly, more people start following them. But again, there’s a limitation right? Especially with the culture of mixing because if you’re looking at a burning name that is mixing Arabic, for example, and a lot of times it’s spoken Arabic so it’s specifically the Palestinian dialect. That might be understandable to people and like, the Levant, like broadly defined, but that’s still like kind of a limited group of people and if you take in having to know the politics having to know the space, the ones that are about like downtown and things like that, like it keeps narrowing down the audience. But I think that is what sometimes tends to make it more funny for those who get it there’s a certain amount of like pride I think that we get when we get the joke and we know that others might not get the job. We feel smart, I think you know, I’m again, I’m not a psychology, this is just, like, out of instinct of thinking where it is. But in terms of political power, I think that there is a power move in deciding who is included and excluded. Because when people are editing an image, they’re making decisions like this is not you know, maybe they’re not thinking about them taking days writing papers, but they are making decisions of like, oh, should I put English in here should I not like, should I put this in another accent or in a more like broadly understood accent so there are these are kind of decisions to include and exclude. So to me, like that is a power move. And I think, you know, looking at that, looking at Haifa names, along with kind of the cultural like urban like nightlife and music scene that’s been developing that is kind of trying to create this, like, separate, safe space almost for Palestinian life. Looking at these together is really interesting.
Audience Member 59:16
nearly a year, earlier, I
Audience Member 59:23
moved to question because,
Audience Member 59:26
I mean, for me, stand up comedy, television, all these promises are
Audience Member 59:33
shaped lead to decision making or shift in lower needs are more important than what is happening. This to me, Islamic art Should I have to, because I’m looking at faces, but also the kinds of ways in which to work. So I’m about what’s next, I’m going to continue to train. Because I know in the World of Warcraft, this is something that is open for interpretation, but no one’s going to do
Sulafa Zidani 1:00:37
think. And I hope I do plan to publish maybe within the next year or two kind of a follow up article, continuing to think about memes as like creative digital media and their relationship to space, I feel like there’s there’s more varied there. And I think Palestine is like a great example for thinking about this, because space is so contested and things are moving fast all the time. And even though like I will be I do plan to draw like near future more from architecture or urban planning, or like the critical side from there, because my work is interdisciplinary. So if you have recommendations, do let me know. So yeah, I think there will be more coming. And if this topic is exciting for you, I’d love to hear more from your perspective. As someone
Sulafa Zidani 1:01:36
who knows architecture.
Tomás Guarna 1:01:51
So which of your users prior says How much? We thought it was a typical
Tomás Guarna 1:02:08
the use of English as a memes relates to like, if English becomes like, a the use of English and political as like a classic, or, like a whole?
Sulafa Zidani 1:02:25
Yeah, thanks for that question. So the answer, like the method thing is like a lot of times, with because of memes use, like a caption, that’s an English. So if it remains in English and remains as is, to me that’s like, it’s part of the meme. And so that’s maybe where it falls into, like cosmopolitanism and things like that, where it’s not like, Oh, I’m gonna use English for this one. But if you think like, maybe as an opposite example, of the meme that had like the guy from Nazareth when they go when they go to Haifa, and suddenly they’re using English words deliberately, so then there were words like vibe, like downtown, like those are words that don’t necessarily have to be in English. Knowing again, knowing the context, I know that we don’t usually say those in English, in Haifa, specifically. And so there’s an element there that, you know, a lot of it is like, the method is like, feeling out, like, is this a common thing? Does it seem like is it an intentional thing is that part of the overall message and a lot of what I like ended up saying comes from recurring themes. So I gave like very few examples here, but the sample size was 150 names, which you know, would be my pleasure to just like go through all of them with you, but probably not make a good presentation. So if I see something that is constantly happening, And to me, that’s like a theme that is coming up.
Sulafa Zidani 1:04:00
Let’s take a question here. And
Andrew Whitacre 1:04:02
so we’re gonna do maybe two, let’s go check so early on in the presentation. There’s a question that came in from Professor Diego in the US Evers asking why is there a disconnect between popular popularity of therapies and ballistic hybrid of need slash code switching especially when you can win with that differentiation?
Sulafa Zidani 1:04:30
Is this a disconnect from this example? I think I need a clarification if like the disconnect is coming through in this works specifically or like a disconnect, culturally speaking, or like speaking on the, towards the context itself
Justin Reich 1:04:59
Andrew Whitacre 1:05:00
All right. So let’s go to SP. s. Welcome to the neighborhood saw. Oh, hi. We’re about the mean. So you mean show up there because it used to happen to post them up there because our after they’ve already circulated demonstrate some customers? In other words, I’m seeing the most practical memes.
Sulafa Zidani 1:05:26
Oh, good question. So the memes that I focused on here, specifically are the most recent 50 that are relevant. So there are a few here and there that were deemed not relevant, as I explained before, based on their either content, or if they’re not a mean, but I use the most recent 50. And those are definitely, especially with the Nazareth memes account and the Haifa memes account. I know that those are memes that were created kind of by these Instagram users. The other account, mess on the inside, might have been using and removing certain trending names, but they’re mostly I would say, as original as I mean, in terms of that they were created by these Instagrams and
getting stuff from
Pinterest for Snapchat.
Sulafa Zidani 1:06:54
Yeah. So I would say that there were there were more conversations happening about that on some of these meme accounts, since kind of the events that began, began unfolding since March, April, May. With all the protests, you know, the more that the content becomes political, the more likely it is to be censored by Instagram, in some ways, and then when it’s censored, we usually see like, people only account trying to speak up about it. This is not true for the accounts that I’m using here at this time. But there are meme accounts that say in their profile description, here’s my alt account. And so they have already created an open account by using maybe the same username and adding like a number or something like that. So they have like an alternative account in case this one shuts down that are like, all of their fans are already following them on the other one. And regarding kind of the cross pollination between different platforms, so one of those pages also has a Facebook page, and that posts the same things. There isn’t like four posts, and I would say are not Palestinians that are situated in Palestine, I would say they’re not using Twitter as much as Facebook and Instagram, especially as a source for me. So I did kind of choose Instagram, despite having like a couple of these pages on Facebook, because it was where like, things felt like they were happening, you know, that’s where things are posted and shared. And I also looked at, like, where they had more followers, not as a measurement, but like as part of the larger picture. Like, where’s there more activity happening? Yeah, I think I got your question.
Paul Roquet 1:08:46
Thank you for being CMS. Thank you really great. I really appreciate the effort, especially in all these websites and bridges, and thinking about mapping subdomains themselves. I was curious. They’re really brought up. I mentioned these operating relationality.
Sulafa Zidani 1:09:14
I was curious. It seems like there’s a few kind of recurring formal structures here and it’s
Paul Roquet 1:09:20
the track structure. Especially. Yeah, because different projects, different structures.
Sulafa Zidani 1:09:43
Yeah, now I’m thinking also of the meme of like, the high finance infrastructure meme where you see like the skeleton that’s drowning at the bottom and then the baby swimming at the top, kind of the mother helping one of the babies but not the other. So there is something to the structure I think you’re talking about like this. Dual structure as well as you know, that helps kind of deliver the message. I didn’t compare the structures. I’ll be honest but I, I appreciate you asking this question because I think it’s a great idea to look at kind of what the structures are doing to kind of deliver this message of relationality that I talked about because I think there’s a there there like, there were a lot of you know, A versus B like we saw with the dog mean with the Nazareth pie or like the, the way people dress in Haifa University versus the Technion, like, there were some of these names that we’re comparing, I think that was definitely like a repeated format. But when it comes to the chest one, and like the ones that are more complex, I do think that I would need to look back at the news and see if there is kind of a repeated pattern then.
Sulafa Zidani 1:10:51
First question, maybe thinking about which is also sort of mythological, like Paul sort of proposes like, Oh, you just did something really cool here that could take all these other sites. But your work is also really local? And particularly places like other sort of methods using to examine these things? What do you feel like you would feel comfortable telling about to graduate students like I go, try this, because it’ll probably be useful in other places, and what feels like more particular to the examination, you know, of one city that you know, really well, at this particular point in time,
Sulafa Zidani 1:11:24
I mean, go and try it in other places. But always consider the ethics of the work that you’re doing, or what you’re bringing, and taking from the space, your positionality, as I mentioned, it in relation to the space, I am, I would be really curious to see people using kind of memes, as you know, for, like how they map out the culture of Boston, MIT, like there are so many things that can be done. And so I think the local examples are used, you know, like they’re, they’re useful for understanding hypo. But this really my goal is like to understand digital media better, and to understand how digital media can facilitate certain relationship to the space or not. But yeah, I will say that, knowing the context really well and providing context of your writing, providing context for your readers, considering that as part of your method, and part of your ethics, I think is really important. So
yeah. So we have a question from Professor Jeremy here. He writes, I still remember the Trump doc on the border, and I was starting to share it with the visual position, it’s hard to erase and wonder about the power of the image positions available instantly as part of capture essence, at the moment, we say a bit more about how the leads are unpacked.
Sulafa Zidani 1:12:52
I assume he memes like how things are unpacked as part of my method I’m in my answer to that would be like what we were just talking about, which is context. So understanding, like, when that man was born, like where this image was taken, I think this is especially important with names that are pointing to a certain type of politics or political relationship, because, you know, like, if we’re going to go back to the start the boyfriend meme where it’s like, me, like, you know, getting distracted from work like that is a universal and repeated kind of behavior that many people can recognize. But if we are thinking about Trump up the border, or that immediately made me think of the name was Netanyahu playing soccer on the beach. So unpacking kind of the context of this was during election time. Here is the strategy that Netanyahu was known for, here is what people who, you know, we’re writing maybe either like in the news or on social media, like what the discourse was kind of around that event overall. So context plays a huge role here. We see that and posted a response Oh, yeah, that makes me English and Arabic is not really encouraged.
Sulafa Zidani 1:14:22
Well, what I meant by that is, like in the example where we see the guy from Nazareth going, so mixing English in that way, and this is also I think it answers ends question, but like, it’s not necessarily the iDubbbz example, which is like mixing English and Arabic together as the same words or as the same grammar, but rather using English words as a way to relate to maybe a higher class or try to perform. So anything like it’s the authenticity is really important here. So any hint of kind of a forced type of use That might indicate some sort of like an authenticity or trying to associate with something that you’re not really reading as you are. It’s kind of discouraged to say the least, it’s like, marked off. And
Audience Member 1:15:14
you are part of that. For that, you know,
Sulafa Zidani 1:15:27
if he, if you are part of well, this is where we need to go to the audience analysis, and do some interviews, I think the way that the main portrays it is marking it. So I’m going to pretend that I was in a class that liked to mix unnecessary English words into my language that is not practiced among maybe like, working class or lower class people, then I would say, if I saw a meme that was mocking my behavior, I probably might not deserve it. But that’s based on I guess, this makes me want to, like take the same meme and just like ask different people, how they respond to it. I think that would be great.
Justin Reich 1:16:19
Just say, thanks a lot for terrific talk. Oh, I think I know you’re
Eric Klopfer 1:16:30
the one, although all the names are like, are divisive, like it’s awesome. And the one Don’t be shown like it was like the Technion University. I can imagine, like people on both sides of that sort of like interpreting that in different ways. Like, it certainly could be divisive, but it can also be one thing, either perfect. I would like to look like the first. Like, is there is there a sense that there’s more there’s sort of like aim to divide that into sort of, like, allows them well, entry points into it, but give a lot of people to sort of take their perspective.
Sulafa Zidani 1:17:08
I’d say like speaking about these accounts, specifically, are the memes that I looked at, very specifically. I, you know, I don’t think that there are more memes that are divisive. These can be read in a divisive way. But I think for the most part, it’s like, oh, true, like, they really, you know, there really is that type of cultural difference. And the goal is really to make people laugh and participate. Rather than kind of be like, you shouldn’t dress this way. As but this was especially true for two of the main accounts. Again, the third one, that was the one that sometimes had like homophobic or sexist type of portrayals. They were not very common, but things like oh, you know, like, this is how girls like to take pictures, kind of mocking the way that like women might pose or do their makeup or whatever. So those I would probably label as like, among may get a bit more divisive group.
Justin Reich 1:18:08
Good. Well, thanks for terrific talks. A lot of things are over for a great conversation. Thanks, Andrew for facilitating and thanks, everybody, for joining us.