Rhetorical Analysis

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

  • Occasion and Exigence
    • Creation and reception, for the most part, are a centered understanding and appreciation of the character Wednesday Addams, gothic and dark humor.
    • The rhetorical occasion most commonly found cannot be grouped, necessarily, by topic, but rather a commonality of Wednesday’s facial expression as an inferred reaction to discourse.
  • Context/Discourse
    • The cultural trends this meme and its variations draw upon are the Addam’s family movies, the character of Wednesday Addams, Gothic lifestyles, the “universal eyeroll,” and “resting bitch face.”
    • 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” (Longaker & Walker, 2011, p. 13), it does, in this case, lead to the action of sharing and recreating the meme.
  • Forum and Genre
    •  Although the creator of the original image can be identified as Paramount pictures and Christina Ricci, 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. The creators and re-creators of these derivatives are deemed unknown (unless identified by those created on a meme-generating site), the forums on which they’re shared include Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, GIPHY, and 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), the following genres apply: black comedy, parody, Gothic, and fantasy (based on the genre of the film). In addition to this, I’ve selected from 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” (p. 112).
    • In regards to presupposition, Longaker and Walker (2011) claim “they are a system of ideas . . . that the speaker and audience share, making them a community” (p. 14). In these particular derivatives it is both the rhetor and audience’s “sense of structure and reality . . . their sense of what the meanings of words are and what is logical, and their sense of what is proper to the forum and genre.” When the conveyance of structure and reality by the creator of the derivatives is effective, then it becomes relatable, shareable, and successful. However, as Longaker and Walker point out, “Presuppositions not only determine what the speaker means and what the audience understands; they also determine both the speaker’s and audience’s understanding of the occasion” (2011, p. 14). The maco image “Wednesday meets the Mean Girls” is an example of the speaker’s misunderstanding of the situation, thus its failed success.
  • 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). Two of the four derivatives succeed in saying “something that is timeless and appropriate” (2011), in fact, I’ll go so far as to say they are (in their own way) timeless. People will continue to be late to work, and people will continue to have their expressionless features mistaken for “resting bitch face.”
  • Rhetor
    • The ostensible rhetor is Wednesday. The implied rhetor is Wednesday. The actual rhetors are those who create, recreate, and share the various meme 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 example memes allow the actual rhetor to speak through the implied rhetor. The exception being the Wednesday meets the Mean Girls derivative, in which case, both Wednesday and the Mean Girls can be identified as the rhetor. The motivation is the opportunity to make a bold statement or speak a believed truth by using a combination of humor/sarcasm and an iconic character.
      • Presuppositions: By creating/recreating and sharing the example macro images, it lifts some of the social constraints the actual rhetor might feel confined to, thus enabling the rhetor to make a point or response to a topic free from social restraints.
      • Intentions: I believe these are a combination of motivations and presuppositions. The actual rhetor is speaking through the implied rhetor to make a point with no explanation needed–if done effectively. By using humor and a “familiar face,” the intention of the rhetor is to freely express a thought or opinion with humor/sarcasm so that it may be shared and imitated by others for its mutual appreciation of topic.
  • Audience
    • Ostensible addressee: For the example macro images, the ostensible addressees are those who are misunderstanding particular situations, indifference to authority, [I] stay true to [me], misunderstood, don’t try and change[me].
    • Intended audience: For the above example macro images, the intended audience is fans of Wednesday/Addams family, dark humor, misfits, and the acerbic retort.
    • Actual audience: For the example macro images, 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?

  • It’s Wednesday
    • Claim: An obvious question may invite sarcasm.
  • Everyday is Wednesday
    • Claim: A change in seasons/holidays does not mean a change in wardrobe.
  • The Wednesday Look
    • Claim: No smile = bad mood.
  • Wednesday Meets the Mean Girls
    • Claim: Turn the paranormal girl into a normal girl, and she’ll finally be happy.

How are those arguments related or connected?

  • The commonality in the derivatives’ arguments is the universal eye roll within an action. Whether that action is initiated or retaliated, the end result is one of satisfaction.

Who is participating in the spread of this meme?

  • The intended audience, as mentioned previously, are fans of Wednesday/Addams Family, dark humor, the misfits/misunderstood standing their ground or holding their own (so to speak). 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. I will include in this the sharing of memes through word-of-mouth: Hey, di you see the “It’s Wednesday meme?” or “You’ve got to check out the meme where Mean Girls trying to give Wednesday a makeover. It’s so stupid–like that would ever happen.” Their interest is pique; they find, relate, and share. Thus, word-of-mouth can be just as effective a way to share memes as the others mentioned.

What characterizes the participants in the spread of this meme?

  • The participants are those that are familiar with Wednesday/Addams Family and understand/appreciate her dark, off-putting personality. They also understand the context of the derivatives such as failing to arrive on time, “resting bitch face,” and the need for others to change what they don’t understand or categorize as “normal.”

What elements enable the meme to spread and vary?

  • A couple things enable these memes to spread and vary: a combination of Wednesday Addams and the inferred look on her face through text. The original image becomes definable, interchangeable, and relatable.

By what vectors does the meme spread?

  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr

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

  • As shown in the derivative examples, Wednesday’s expression is open to interpretive variations. In the original macro image, Wednesday’s expression can be interpreted as contemptuous and antagonistic. Inference is drawn from the fact that we know she is an unwilling participant at summer camp. By adding text to the original image of Wednesday, the rhetor infers what Wednesday’s expression is, resulting in the desired interpretation.
  • As we can see from the examples collected, the Wednesday macro image has been re-created numerous times and shared through a variety of vectors, because of this, we know that ease in re-creating is available. Ease in creation, inspiration, and minimal interpretation, are all the elements of persuasion needed to keep using this macro image for variations.

Rhetorical Effectiveness

As is demonstrated in the example derivatives, Wednesday’s expression is open to interpretive variations. In the original macro image, her expression can be interpreted as contemptuous and antagonistic. Inference is drawn from the intended audience, those familiar with who Wednesday is and maybe even realize that the macro image is a screenshot from the Addams Family Values film—she is having a little “kill me now” reaction at finding herself in such a preposterous environment (summer camp). By adding text to the macro image of Wednesday, the rhetor defines Wednesday’s expression, resulting in the desired persuasion. An example of effective persuasion is “The Wednesday Look” derivative. By adding text to the macro image, the rhetor gives a tamer variation of “resting bitch face”. The fact that Wednesday may or may not be in a bad mood is irrelevant because when in repose, a sullen or scowling expression is a well-known attribute of Wednesday’s.

As we can see from the derivative examples, Wednesday’s expression is open to interpretive variations. In the original macro image, Wednesday’s expression can be interpreted as contemptuous and antagonistic. Inference is drawn from the fact that we know she is an unwilling participant at summer camp. By adding text to the original image of Wednesday, the rhetor infers what Wednesday’s expression is, resulting in the desired interpretation. 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. As we can see from the examples collected, the Wednesday macro image has been re-created numerous times and shared through a variety of vectors, because of this, we know that ease in re-creating is available. Ease in creation, inspiration, and minimal interpretation, are all the elements of persuasion needed to keep using this macro image for variations.

The implied rhetor of these example derivatives is Wednesday. 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 rhetor can vary. For example, in the “Wednesday and the Mean Girls” derivative, the implied rhetor is not Wednesday and the actual rhetor is not those who create, recreate, and share the various meme derivatives. Instead, the actual rhetor is what/whom the Mean Girls represent by giving Wednesday a makeover. The intended audience then becomes Wednesday; it’s “paranormal” vs “normal”. The “Morticia and Bitchy Barbies” meme is another example of “paranormal” vs “normal”, and even though the “Wednesday and the Mean Girls” meme seems to be a feeble attempt at “normal” conforming “paranormal” as a retaliation, the “Mean Girls” are still the oppressors. Rhetor and audience are then brought together through recognition of discourse; this recognition motivates audience participation in the sharing and recreation of the meme.

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 Wednesday’s expression can infer contempt and antagonism, they are not the only emotions that come into play. For example, in the derivative “It’s Wednesday” the rhetor may be trying to share a resignation to their procrastination with the intended audience. The rhetor’s response to the “boss’s” inquiry can be defined as acerbic in tone. Wednesday is the poster child for acerbic wit–If acerbic wit needed a poster child, Wednesday would be it. 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 “It’s Wednesday” meme on any of my social media accounts, it’s because I want to communicate to my intended audience that I’m habitually late to work and I own it. For example, I once had a boss who threatened to write me up if I didn’t start getting to work on time. I told her that I understood where she was coming from, as my boss, and to do what she felt she had to do because I didn’t want to make a promise I didn’t think I’d be able to keep. Somehow I was not fired. Did I start making it into work on time? No. Did I get written up? Also, no. This isn’t something I’m necessarily proud of, but I wasn’t going to add liar to my list of shortcomings. Ya dig?

The commonality in the example derivatives’ arguments is the universal eye roll. Whether that action is the result of or the cause of, the end result is a shared annoyance. Three things enable these memes to spread and vary: Creation and reception mainly revolve around an understanding of the character of Wednesday Addams, an appreciation of black/dark comedy, and the original image is definable and interchangeable, thus relatable, shareable, and, most importantly, successful.