Beckham Lecture Focuses on the Effect of Memes on Current Culture
From “Bad Luck Brian” to the “Pepper Spraying Cop” and the “Crying Jordan,” memes have had an enormous impact on communication within the social media realm. School of Communications Assistant Professor Dr. Scott Church, recently shared his research findings in his lecture for the Winter 2017 Raymond E. and Ida Lee Beckham Lecture in Communications Series. Entitled, “The Art of Mass Communication: The Sublime, Ineffable and Spiritual Elements of Memes,” Church’s lecture focused on the importance of memes within today’s society and specifically the role they play in proselyting within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“Human attention is the currency of social media,” Dr. Church commented. This attention, along with the virality of content shared, are key elements to understanding communication in today’s digital world. In discussing these points, Dr. Church turned to the effects of memes and asked the following questions: How do they get our attention? What is a meme’s cultural function? Do they only attract attention and entertain for a moment? What makes memes last?
In studying these questions, Dr. Church stumbled upon the idea that memes could constitute as art. Art contains the sublime, a transformative experience based on user engagement. Memes evoke an emotional reaction that grabs an audience’s attention in the same way that art does. After coming to this conclusion, Dr. Church then turned his attention to determining which types of memes communicate feelings.
Religious memes influence and persuade audiences. Rather than being snarky and playful, they tend to be more uplifting and share beliefs in a non-threatening way. This research lead Dr. Church to conclude that the memetic content (viral content) the LDS Church has begun to mass produce is a new form of digital proselyting. This content shifts away from clear verbal articulation of doctrine and towards immersing the viewer in an atmosphere of faith and conversion. Dr. Church concludes that the LDS Church would benefit from the continued production of content with these types of sublime and multisensory experiences.