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If the last video focused on beauty and appearance, it was also clear that these are values by which people are judged. So it was a way of making morality visual. Another way of achieving the same aims is through memes, which are much more explicit guides to people’s values, whether in relation to family, community, or religion. Moral memes are one of the most popular visual postings in Grano, as in most of the field sites in the project, too. By sharing moral memes, people hope to express deeply felt feelings that others will share and support.
The indirect quality of the meme also means that people feel able to publicly share some political criticisms of the government that previously they would have only shared privately with their family and close friends. The consequence is not that more people from South Italy are involved in politics because of internet and social media, but that much more people are encouraged to participate in the public sphere that was previously reserved to just a few– local politicians, intellectuals, and other people with higher cultural capital. Now let us take a closer look to two sites that were popular in Italy and Trinidad at the time of our research.
This meme reads, “Who knows to look only to the ephemeral beauty of the body ignores the eternal wonder of the soul”. This meme was posted in summer 2014 by a woman in her 20s from the Italian field site with a scope to draw attention towards the inner beauty that exists in every person, as opposed to an exterior and more visible one that is more present on the internet and social media. But as you can see, the interior beauty’s mirrored by an exterior one, as exemplified by the warm colours and the delicate swan, which are all appreciated as being essentially universal qualities. Then, in this meme, there is nothing specific to Italians, or to an Italian kind of visibility.
And this is exactly the reason why we call this a moral meme. It engages with a moral idea that is thought of as being recognised and praised well beyond the local community, and problematic. This meme is an example of a popular genre of memes featuring Kermit the Frog. The image is taken from an ad for Lipton tea, where Kermit is sitting in a cafe while there is chaos on the street outside, and he says, “But that’s none of my business’. In the Trinidad field site, the catch phrase appeared as humorous moral commentary to point out what another person or group was doing. We have seen what major social consequences apparently banal and taken for granted visual genres could have.
And this is just the beginning. Throughout this course, you will see many more occasions in which your previous assumptions on social media will be challenged.

It is not surprising that memes with a religious theme could be called moral memes. But now we can see that even in countries such as the UK where most memes are intended to be funny, these can equally serve as moral memes because often they make fun of politicians or pretentiousness or other behaviour people disprove of.

Have a look at the memes on your own social media, especially the funny ones. Do they seem to you to have any underlying moral message? Please share some examples in the comments below.

Do you have a favourite meme? Have you ever created your own meme and why?

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Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

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