Rhetorical Analysis

Image result for morticia and gomez memes

Consider the rhetorical situation that the meme overall and each meme addresses.

  • Occasion and Exigence
    • Creation and reception of derivatives mainly revolve around a knowledge and understanding of the characters of Morticia and Gomez Addams, including an appreciation of black comedy and fantasy fiction.
    • Most common circumstances and discussions center around apathetic reactions toward certain people and situations that Morticia and Gomez find themselves in. Rhetor and audience are brought together through recognition of discourse; this recognition motivates audience participation in the sharing and recreation of the meme.
  • Context/Discourse
    • The cultural trends these derivatives draw upon are The Addams Family movie, the characters of Morticia and Gomez Addams, fantasy fiction, and, once again, the normal/regular clashing with paranormal/different. Or, to quote Morticia, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
    • As with my previous collections of memes (Wednesday and Morticia), the general type of discourse these derivatives draw on is epideictic–” . . . praise or blame in the present . . . it forms attitudes and affirms or critiques values and beliefs” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 13). And although epideictic discourse is defined as “not leading immediately to actions” (Logaker & Walker, 2011, p. 13), it does, in this case, lead to the action of sharing and recreating the meme.
  • Forum and Genre
    • Here, I will identify the forum as the “technological medium[s] or the virtual site[s]” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 13) in which the rhetor and audience meet. Although the creator of the original image can be identified as Paramount pictures, Anjelica Houston and Raul Julia, the creators and re-creators of these derivatives are unknown (unless identified by a meme-generating site), the forums on which they’re shared include: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, GIPHY, as well as various meme-generating sites.
    • Basing types of genre off of Longaker and Walker’s description of “recognizable and recurring types of speech” (2011, p. 14), I include the following genres in no particular order: black comedy, parody, Gothic, and fantasy fiction. In my collection of memes, I stated that Reaction Photoshops was the genre that best fit these derivatives. However, I was only able to defend this by parsing the title. Therefore, I’ve revisited Shifman’s (2014) list of 9 meme genres and selected “Stock Character Photos” as the best fit, for the following reason: ” . . . memes belonging to this family do share two features: they use image macros, and they build on a set of stock characters that represent stereotypical behaviors” (Shifman, 2014, p. 112).
  • Kairos
    • “Virtually the whole art of rhetoric boils down to the ability to say what is timely and appropriate at any moment and the ability to create or modify kairos, and to set up the moment when a particular statement can be fitting and persuasive” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 10). I feel the Fifty Shades of Grey (Morticia and Gomez unimpressed) derivative is a good example of this description. It is “timely and appropriate” (2011) not only for addressees who think the novels and movies of the above title are garbage but also for those who hate Valentine’s Day.
  • Rhetor
    • The ostensible rhetors are Morticia and Gomez. The implied rhetors are Morticia and Gomez. The actual rhetors are those who create, recreate, and share the various derivatives.
      “Both the implied and actual rhetors’ motivations, presuppositions, and intentions” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 36) are as follows:

      • Motivations: The creation/recreation of the various derivatives allows the actual rhetor to communicate through the implied rhetor. The motivation is the opportunity to passive-aggressively show displeasure of a subject by using a combination of humor and iconic characters.
      • Presuppositions: By creating/recreating and sharing the various derivatives, it frees the actual rhetor to show his or her annoyance of chosen subjects in a non-confrontational manner.
      • Intentions: I believe these are a combination of motivations and presuppositions. The actual rhetor is speaking through the implied rhetor(s) to make a point “quickly and clearly” (2011) with no in-depth examination needed–only if done effectively. By using humor and familiar faces, the intention of the rhetor is to freely express an attitude and/or opinion so that it may be shared and imitated by others.
  • Audience
    • Ostensible addressee: For the macro image examples, the ostensible addressees are those who find particular subjects (including people) as intolerable: regular people, inane inquiries,  the 50 Shades of Grey creators–producers–and fandom, and every month that is not Halloween month.
    • Intended audience: For the above macro image examples, the intended audience is fans of Morticia and Gomez (particularly as a couple)/the Addams family, dark humor, and normal/regular vs paranormal/different clashings.
    • Actual audience: For the above macro image examples, the actual audience is essentially anyone who has access to the internet via computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.

What makes this meme rhetorically successful?

What does each derivative argue?

Morticia, Gomez, and regular people
Claim: Having to spend time with regular people is torture.

Morticia, Gomez, and us
Claim: Tedious questions are intolerable and should be ignored.

Morticia and Gomez unimpressed
Claim: That 50 Shades of Grey + 0 talent = unimpressive date night.

Morticia and Gomez’s favorite month
Claim: October is when [we] finally come alive.

How are those arguments related or connected?

  • The commonality in the derivatives’ arguments is experiencing displeasure with particular encounters. The only exception being the “favorite month” derivative, in which the end result is actually a pleasurable one. Otherwise, the end result is complete torture.

Who is participating in the spread of this meme?

  • The initial response would be the intended audience who, as mentioned previously, are fans of Morticia and Gomez Addams, black comedy and fantasy fiction, and the normal/regular clashing with paranormal/different. However, given who I’ve previously identified as the actual audience (anyone who has access to the internet via computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.), this seems the more probable answer. From previous experience, and when talking about this project, I’m inclined to also include those who have seen the various derivatives and done nothing more than described the meme to another individual, thus the sharing of a meme was initiated via word of mouth.

What characterizes the participants in the spread of this meme?

  • The participants are those that are familiar with Morticia and Gomez Addam’s and understand/appreciate the gothic, quirkiness of their behaviors. They also understand the context of the derivatives such as experiencing displeasure with particularly annoying encounters and the normal/regular clashing with paranormal/different, thus sharing what they find relatable.

What elements enable the meme to spread and vary?

  • Two things enable these memes to spread and vary: 1. the combination of Morticia and Gomez (who they are and what they represent) and the looks on their faces. The original macro image is definable, interchangeable, and relatable, not to mention humorous.

By what vectors does the meme spread?

  • Meme Crunch
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • @RebelCircus
  • Google search

What elements persuade others to put in the work of making those variations?

  • As shown in the derivative examples, Morticia and Gomez’s expressions are open to interpretive variations. In the original macro image, their expressions can be interpreted as unimpressed and apathetic. Inference is drawn from the fact that we know they are are attending a school play/program and are suffering through some upbeat students singing some obnoxiously peppy tune until their children finally make it to the stage to perform. By adding text to the original macro image of Morticia and Gomez, the rhetor infers what their expressions are, resulting in the desired interpretation.
  • With the Morticia and Gomez unimpressed derivative, we can see firsthand what elements persuaded this variation: Morticia and Gomez (a romantic couple that are no strangers to boudoir kink), crappy fanfic turned crappy movie, and Valentine’s Day. Put it all together and you have a very displeased and unimpressed Morticia and Gomez on date night. This derivative has high potential for further memetic development because it could be remixed to parody any crappy film out there–as long as that film is relatable to Morticia and Gomez.
  • As we can see from the example, ease in re-creating is available by simply merging a movie promotion to the original derivative with editing software. Ease in creation, inspiration, and minimal interpretation, are all the elements of persuasion needed to keep using this macro image for variations.

Rhetorical Effectiveness

With the example derivatives, Morticia and Gomez’s expressions are open to a few interpretive variations. In the original macro image, their expressions can be interpreted as apathetic and unimpressed. Inference is drawn from the intended audience, those familiar with who Morticia and Gomez are and, let’s take this a little further, knowing that the macro image is a screenshot from The Addams Family film—they are attending a school play/program and are suffering through some upbeat students singing some obnoxiously peppy tune until their children finally make it to the stage to perform. By adding text to the macro image of Morticia and Gomez, the rhetor defines their expressions, resulting in the desired persuasion. An example of effective persuasion is the “Morticia and Gomez unimpressed” derivative. By photoshopping a second image to the original, the rhetor further alters the macro image, and in doing so, expands on the conversation. The conversation is in the fact that this derivative is making fun of fanfic turned movie phenom, making it both relatable and shareable (and enjoyable) to any viewer/sharer who can’t abide bad writing/acting. This derivative is effective for a number of reasons: Morticia and Gomez are a couple in love and seeing a movie on Valentine’s Day (as implied in the promotional poster), and the movie is about two people falling in love and their courtship. But the most important inference (and quite possibly the key factor that makes this derivative so successful) is that 50 Shades of Grey is most popularly known for its BDSM, and as any fan of the Addams Family worth his or her salt can tell you, Morticia and Gomez are no slouches when it comes to boudoir kink (leather straps, red-hot pokers, etc.)–and they are as unimpressed.

From the example derivatives, we can see that the original macro image has been re-created numerous times, in various ways, thus the knowledge that ease of re-creation is available. Ease with creation, inspiration, and minimal interpretation, are all the elements of persuasion needed to keep using this macro image for a multitude of variations. So, even though the example derivatives deviate from the original meme, it is important to my claim that the original macro image meets the criteria to spur memetic development and continued circulation. With the “Morticia and Gomez’s favorite month” derivative, we can see that fans of Halloween (not celebrated for a day but an entire month) persuaded this variation. The creators and distributors of this meme are presumably not only fans of Morticia and Gomez but also the month of October–Halloween month. A statement that I originally thought had missed the mark (Wednesday Addams variation). However, where the Wednesday Addams derivative falls short, the Morticia and Gomez one makes up for it. And I believe one of the reasons the Morticia and Gomez derivative is more successful than the Wednesday derivative is because of packaging. Shifman (2014) defines the packaging of messages as a pivotal aspect of viral diffusion (p. 68). Clear and simple messages tend to spread better than complex ones or in the case of the Wednesday Addams derivative, imprecision. By using 2 different images of Morticia and Gomez, wearing equally different expressions (one inferring disinterest and the other inferring excitement/pleasure), the addressee has a clearer understanding of the intended message.

The implied rhetor/s of these example derivatives are Morticia and Gomez. The implied rhetors are also those who create, recreate, and share the various meme derivatives. In most derivatives, they are also the actual rhetors. However, in some derivatives, the actual rhetors can vary. For example, in the “Morticia, Gomez, and us” derivative, the implied rhetor/s are not Morticia and Gomez. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. The original macro image and the merged image are visual representations of the creators’ both reacting and responding to the inane questions they hear repeatedly. Morticia and Gomez’s expressions are the inferred reaction, and the merged image of a man and woman’s–obviously a couple and most likely the creators of this derivative–expressions are the inferred response. Unlike the expressions of Morticia and Gomez, which infers a reaction of displeasure or “suffering in silence”, the couple’s (merged image) shows a slightly different expression which infers a different response. The slight smirk of the woman, the defiant chin tilt of the man, these subtle shifts in expression infer defiance–a “wouldn’t you like to know the answers” type of response. Since it’s known that Morticia and Gomez represent those who are “unusual”, “outcasts”, and/or “interesting”, the addressee/s understand that the addressor/s feel a mutual connection.

The use of humor in the example derivatives is definitely a key component to their success. However, they’re also successful because of the rhetors use of pathos: “. . . the speaker must present causes for emotion . . . to arouse, intensify, or change the audience’s emotion” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 46). Although I have said that Morticia’s expression can infer that of being apathetic and unimpressed, they are not the only emotions that come into play. For example, in the derivative “Morticia and Gomez’s favorite month” the rhetor may be arousing or intensifying excitement at the approach of October–Halloween month. Logos is also apparent in the example derivatives. This is “the reasoning itself . . . it is the unspoken relationships between the speakers’ statements and the conclusions they encourage the audience to draw” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 47). To illustrate, if I share the “Morticia and Gomez unimpressed” meme on Twitter and then hashtag the book/movie title, author/producers, Morticia and Gomez, and even Valentine’s Day, it’s because I want my intended audience to draw the conclusion that I think all things 50 Shades of Grey sucks and I want those who take a walk on the creepier side of life to share the “love”.

Although the primary way these derivatives persuade is through humor, not all will find them humorous. Aside from the obvious, who won’t find the content relatable—normal/regular people, fans of 50 Shades of Grey, people who don’t like Halloween (as horrifying as this sounds, yes, such people exist), and those who are incapable of accepting/understanding we who are paranormal/differnt–consider also the individuals on the receiving end of these derivatives (the ostensible addressees)—author/producer of 50 Shades of Grey drivel and those who ask the inane questions—they most certainly will not find these derivatives humorous and worthy of sharing. The commonality in the example derivatives’ arguments is finding apathetic reactions toward certain people and situations that they find themselves in. Whether that situation is being experienced or empathized, the end result is an intolerable one. Three things enable these memes to spread and vary: Creation and reception mainly revolve around an understanding of the characters Morticia and Gomez Addams, appreciating black comedy and fantasy fiction, and the original image being definable and interchangeable, thus relatable, shareable.