On 8th December I gave a talk at Pecha Kucha Birmingham. This talk was critical of the one-way system of cultural reappropriation by corporations. The whole video is available below.
Ctrl + C
If you can at all relate to the issues being discussed in this presentation you can read more about it in this great article about How Corporations Profit From Black Teens’ Viral Content
The next Pecha Kucha in Birmingham will be taking place on March 15th and you should get in touch about tickets or even giving a talk at it.
Ctrl + C/Ctrl + V
As a super special bonus below is the presentation in text and image form.
Culture is created by copying, adopting, remixing, recreating and doing it all over again. Nowhere is this more noticeable than on the internet where memes, easily adaptable and modifiable jokes, are created by appropriating popular culture for, well, the lols.
Like all good things, though, there are forces working against creating of memes. Corporate agendas have infiltrated the conversations and threaten, sometimes successfully, to stop the spread of lols. Using a few examples I want to show how largely corporate agendas have resulted in stifling of creativity in some way
From November 2014 Snoop Dogg began posting images on the internet, requesting that people memes out of them.
The response was less than favourable. Instead of reappropriating these images and making really funny memes out of them people instead made a meme out of the fact that this is not a meme and that his desperate attempts were somewhat laughable.
Although this type of social engineering by powerful people or brands isn’t always a failure you should be careful that you don’t end up like Milhouse, a meme used to ridicule forced memes.
For my second case study I want to look at the phenomenon of Left Shark. In February 2015 Katy Perry performed at the Super Bowl half time show in America. In this performance Perry was joined on stage by, amongst other cuddly critters, two dancers dressed as sharks. The one on the left became popular in by its apparent inability to keep to the routine.
The internet quite quickly made a meme out of this. Some liked how individual and unique Left Shark was. Others liked the absurdity of it all. Whatever the reason for liking Left Shark, it very quickly became a thing of interest.
It caught the attention of one person who decided to make a 3D model available for anyone to make their own 3D print or art featuring left shark. A good thing, right? Yes, and with all good things eventually the big boys come and ruin it all!
Katy Perry’s lawyers swooped in and demanded that this model be taken down. They claimed that they owned the right to Left Shark.
They even tried to register a trademark for left Shark, which was ultimately rejected. What is worrying about this for me is that the community created Left Shark, not Katy Perry or her lawyers. Before us there was no left Shark, just some anonymous person in a costume. We created Left Shark but they want to own it.
For my last case study I want to focus on the appropriation of internet slang, slang, emoji and “youth culture” in general. In June 2014 Peaches Monroee, a regular vine user uploaded a video talking about her appreciation of her eyebrows.
I’ve opted not to use audio so I’ll recite what she said. “We up in this bitch. Finna get crunk. Eyebrows on Fleek. Da fuq. Being on fleek quite quickly became a thing and a way to say something is on point, or good. Whatever. Like all good things, brands soon caught on and ruined it.
Brands started attaching the word fleek onto their promotional tweets, latching onto its popularity and trying to get a piece of this sweet sweet pie.
Probably my favourite of the uses of fleek. It has the honour of not only being terrible but also rhyming. That surely deserves an award
There’s a very popular twitter account called Brands Saying Bae that occasionally collects examples of brands using this popular vernacular. It’s an attempt to humanise the brand and relate to its potential customers on their level by using their language.
However, I think it’s just embarrassing. It’s like when your Mom or Dad tries to hang out with your friends by bustin’ out a “yo yo homies” whilst wearing a backwards cap. It’s just not going to happen
There’s a bigger demon here though. The brands will use this vernacular, these reapporpiated memes as a way to sell us things, sometimes successfully. But what about Peaches Monroee?
What about the creator of doge? What about people creating memes? Corporations will happily take our the culture we created to sell us stuff back at a premium, but when we try and do it we’re stopped and they try to control it.
For this creative culture to carry on creating nonsensical memes that ultimately bring us joy we have to stop restrictive laws from controlling how we interpret and reinterpret the culture that we see around us.
Or, to put it another way, this cultural reappropriation by corporate brands needs to take an arrow to the knee.