Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.
Fast food conglomerate McDonald’s recently tried to fabricate a meme in support of their seasonal green-colored, mint-flavored Shamrock Shake, posting a sponsored article on the site Buzzfeed.com. Taking hints from “Planking” and “Tebowing,” the attempted meme was a typical post-a-pic venture involving a person holding a Shamrock shake and standing… awkwardly, attempting to do an “Irish jig” — I think. It’s all a bit strange, really. How did McDonald’s fare at this #Shamrocking meme attempt? Not well, obviously, as this is probably the first you’ve heard of it. Forced meme: denied.
The attempt makes sense from a marketing perspective, at least. Businesses big and small are investing heavily in social media as a marketing tool, seeing it as an opportunity to develop brand loyalty and imprint themselves further on the daily lives of consumers. Obviously, a social media marketer would want to tap into the viral world of meme, the most holiest of the digital grails. If a business can fabricate and force a meme on the public, we will do their advertising work for them, better than they ever could, and for free.
So why couldn’t McDonald’s make a hit out of #Shamrocking? What went wrong?
In part, it’s because it’s McDonald’s. It’s not a restaurant chain most of us take very seriously, so it’s highly unlikely we would be interested in doing any sort of #Shamrocking for them.
But more important, Ask anyone who has had a “hit” meme who tried to follow up the success with a sequel — it just can’t be done. Meme is organic, it’s a moment where we all collectively decide that we like or dislike something with complete disregard for the powers-that-be. In a strangely democratic act of culture, we as a whole say “this is funny” or “this is cool” or “this is uncool enough to be funny” (or something like that), and thus a meme is born. Meme will not be fabricated and forced on the people from above – the people are the final deciders. Though at times we may take a cue from an elite who brings something to light, a meme is something we decide to support a part from being told to by those in authority.
This is one of the common threads of meme: collective ownership “by the people.” As men and women created in the image of God, we were created to be equal, with all of history being a story of men and women realizing and reacting to this truth. We’ve fought and warred to secure the “freedom” which, in the end, is simply the right to be neighbors. And this God-given desire and self-evident knowledge is the reason we refuse to #Shamrock… the people decide what a meme is, and it will not be decided for them.