A gathering with fire: Exploring the audience reception of internet memes about Belfast riots

Lundqvist, M. (2023). A gathering with fire: Exploring the audience reception of internet memes about Belfast riots. Media, Culture & Society

Link: https://doi.org/10.1177/01634437231219154

Open access: Yes

Notes: Events of political violence are increasingly seen as memeable moments—that is, memes are now a key way citizens discuss and make sense of such situations. Nonetheless, few studies have explored how the audiences (the actual audiences instead of the imagined audiences) respond to such memes. In this context, Lundqvist explores how audiences respond to memes about the Belfast riots. The author outlines four themes by building on content analysis and interviews and marrying literature on memes and audiences. First, the mediating role of popular culture in the discourse of political violence. Second is the importance of authorship, whereby people want to know who created the memes to evaluate it. Third, the role of identity negotiation in the reading of these memes. And finally, fourth is the emotional entanglement of the audiences with the memes. Overall, this study is an important contribution to the audience scholarship, as it complicates how people read and negotiate the memeing of violence.

Abstract: This study sheds light upon how memes about rioting in present-day Belfast are read by their audiences. As such, it answers to a distinct research gap in the meme studies literature, which has mostly shied away from in-depth engagements with audiences, favouring instead the intertwined concepts ‘imagined audience’ and the ideological ‘directionality’ of memes. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 19 respondents in Belfast, I develop four themes on how they read memes about political violence. The findings indicate that the concept ‘imagined audience’ is reductive at best, which was evident in this study as interviewees did not blindly follow the ideological ‘directionality’ when reading a meme. Moving beyond this reductive view allowed me to unpack how meme audiences place value in the pop-cultural form of the meme; their take on its ‘imagined author’; how they perceived the meme as a site for identity work, and their emotional engagements with memes.

Join the ConversationLeave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *