Creative digital labour of meme making
Up until recently, internet memes were regarded as anonymous bits of humorous digital culture by scholars and the public alike. Today, it is possible to follow the work of meme makers who create their own cohesive artistic and authorial styles, like we would the oeuvre of painters, writers, or musicians. Internet meme creators can break through anonymity and obscurity with the help of a variety of digital platforms, showcase their work to tens of thousands of followers online, and as a result start making an income as meme creators. This changes the position of certain meme creators from the stereotypical “anon” user-generator into a "platform-dependent cultural worker" (Poell et al., 2022). As a result, meme creators enter a precarious working relationship digital platforms, similar to other cultural workers such as YouTubers, Twitch streamers and TikTok creators Abidin 2016; Bishop, 2020; Glatt, 2022; Woodcock and Johnson 2019). This new development in the world internet memes leads us to ask the question “what does the work of meme creation even look like?” I approached this research question through a qualitative perspective and conducted a digital visual ethnography of a niche meme community centrally based on Instagram. For this study, I interviewed 15 meme creators, curators, artists, and production staff and analysed the internet memes that my interviewees have made through three main themes: work, art and community. I found that the digital creative labour these meme creators and artists engage in is precarious in nature, artistic in motivation, and ultimately a community-driven effort. Therefore this study aims to highlight platform-dependent cultural work through a case study of meme making on digital platforms. While complementing the existent research on platform work, it also seeks to inform cultural workers, such as internet meme creators, with an overview of existent interventions against platform-captivity.
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