Spaghetti Meme Life

Spaghetti Meme Life

It occurred to me one day that memes 1 2 might revolve around spaghetti. It’s likely they don’t, but it still seems that way. Certainly for those of us that follow absurdist or esoteric Facebook pages, the dankmemes subreddit, or elsewhere to get our daily dose of escapism or demand a feeling of solidarity from a faceless human on the other side of our router connection, memes are a part of life. Maybe you don’t like memes. Maybe you like hours of makeup tutorials on YouTube. That stuff is damn cool, too! Some of us, myself included, like to make fun of ourselves for our oddities. Carrying the same anti- social stereotypes as anime and party wallflowers, admitting to geeking out over memes or whatever, might feel like outing your own unhealthy coping mechanisms. This is clearly a common feeling among ‘memers’; there’s a meme or two about precisely that.

That said, I’m a ‘memer’: one who memes. I’m super geeky to the point that I’m driving my “normie” Facebook friends crazy. (Moth memes, anybody? I know all of them. ALL. OF. THEM.) Yet, I deny that those of us who really get memes are using them as unhealthy coping mechanisms. Maybe sometimes, not always. More on this later.

Spaghetti. I was talking about spaghetti, remember. In case it hasn’t occurred to you, I have a geeky streak. Occasionally I say weird shit that’s been rolling around in my head too long, boiling way beyond al dente. Speaking of, I took a Network Science course once. Networks are neat. Consider your Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you use. There’s some way to “friend” other people or other profiles. Consider yourself a “node” and the other people you connect to as other “nodes”. When you friend them there’s an invisible edge between you and them. All those connections of nodes and edges are a network. Now, the same is true for your friends’ friends, their friends, and so on, and they are all connected forever and infinity for always. Ever hear of “6 degrees of separation” rule? TL;DR: some dude told people to write letters and send them to random people they didn’t know and he said it took putting that same letter in the mail 6 times before it reached its destination. So the “6 degrees” rule stuck even though that’s not exactly right. For example, on Facebook, pretty much everyone is around 3-4 edges (or “degrees”) away from almost everyone else. That’s wild, right?! What that means is you are connected to someone who is connected to someone who’s connected to Mark Zuckerburg. That’s your first Network Science lesson: in terms of social networks, we’re all REALLY close to each other, especially online.

Invisible lines between you and other people are not exactly spaghetti though. We’re getting there. Promise. Now that your brain is obviously destroyed by how close you are to THE ZUCC, I have a point to make: You might have no idea which friends connects you to him. A long time ago, like at least a few years ago, probably like two or a billion or something, people who studied the internet were like, “So, once everyone has Internet all the time and stops trying to monopolize everything and sell it to your personal FBI agent, we will all know all the things everyone does, and be happy. Also, we’ll all know Kung Fu like in The Matrix!” Really. I totally read that in a study that Abraham Lincoln posted on Twitter. You know it. I know it. We all know it. But no! Wrong! We were so wrong! You probably don’t know everything Zuckerberg is doing. He makes a lot of stuff public, but you don’t really know what he’s saying or how he’s doing it. Consider some random person instead, say the next whistleblower or the next person who outs your state senator leaving their dog in a hot car or whatever when they went to Wegmans. You don’t know who that person will be. They don’t have a name or a face yet. You certainly don’t know who connects you to them, nevermind what they’re going to say. All you can say right now is they probably-most- likely-definitely-for-sure are Facebook friends with some dude named Dan, they own a shirt, and maybe they ate food somewhere. You may or may not even suspect they might be vegetarian except for the occasional chicken parm. That’s it though. That’s about all you’ve got. Some smarty-pants people have gotten closer to figuring out how we can find these connections quicker, though. These in-betweens have names social network scholars have called “network gatekeepers” or “weak ties” or other such mumbo jumbo that explains who gets what information andhow. But even these people don’t know Kung Fu yet. If they did, then you as well, would certainly know Kung Fu.

You didn’t even know until about 10 minutes ago you were reading a paper about spaghetti. Did you forget? This is about spaghetti. I swear. No, really. Okay, fine. FINE! Spaghetti. So, memes: they’re certainly about spaghetti. Just like how Hollywood is totally centered around Kevin Bacon.3 Don’t believe that’s a thing? Google “Bacon Numbers” and be prepared that some dude named Brian Turtle thought Kevin Bacon was the center of the universe. But Brian’s crazy. Bacon is definitely not the center of the universe. Spaghetti is. It wiggles its little buttery tendrils into everything. Because of where I sit in my network, who I’m connected to, these stupid images that I see everyday all seem to center around spaghetti. They’re not “viral” or anything. They don’t show up in waves. They’re ever present and sneaky, this spaghetti. Ever since Eminem vomited noodle-y poetry all over himself for that one song and made that movie about 8 Mile. This was long, long before he dropped that album with that cover ripping off the Beastie Boys’ License To Ill. Long before this, spaghetti has been everywhere.

Spaghetti almost isn’t food anymore. It has transcended into this awkward signal for the unwieldy, absurdist connection between internet jokes. It’s like the grand meta-joke. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve seen all the spaghetti jokes online. All of them. Maybe you’ve literally seen all the memes, but somehow I doubt it. I am in the middle of writing an academic paper on “Slaps Roof of Car” meme. It was first a WikiHow image someone posted to Twitter with a caption. Want to know what that caption was about: literally about amounts (quantities?…amorphus blobs?) of “fuckin’ spaghetti”. But here’s the weird thing, of all the images that come out of “Slaps Roof of Car”, only like three of the literal thousands of them are about spaghetti. You could be completely into the Slaps Roof of Car meme, and never realize it started with a joke about spaghetti. There’s the more obvious ones like Eminem’s mom’s spaghetti. You might know of “Somebody Toucha My Spaghet” which comes from a really old animation. You might even be aware that some people think spaghetti is affiliated with bachelorhood because apparently fellas suck at cooking. (I kind of do, frankly.) Some people might subscribe to Pastafarianism, which is kind of memetic in its own way. Can I get a “Ramen” here? Know Your Meme has a page just dedicated to spaghetti even though it isn’t exactly meme itself; they’re just admitting it’s omnipresence and its relation to “food porn” memes. The point is, for some reason, the sign of spaghetti wiggles its way into places, it just does not seem to belong except that it’s still there, and that fascinates me. Spaghetti has this odd way of putting itself between your clean kitchen counter and the awkward spot between your garbage can and the stove that never gets cleaned. These are places for ‘wholesome memes’ and ‘shitposting’ respectively.

But yet despite the fact that you may not literally see spaghetti in your memes, perhaps there’s a “spaghetti” in your life. Perhaps there are objects that marinate your social experiences that you don’t really think about that add a kind of emotive flavor to your tastes. This… THIS… is what memes do! Sure, the jokes on the surface seem absurd. Sure, they might be related to escapism. Maybe they are literal lies that you don’t believe but still share. I ironically share flat earth memes because they’re satire of common sense “logic”. Spaghetti somehow is a part of all this “logic” for me. Somehow.` Obviously we don’t believe everything we share online, but that doesn’t mean that these things don’t come with a signal of truth. There’s an information philosopher, Luciano Floridi, who claims that information is never entirely “false” per se. In basic, information gives us a kind of truth about semantic structure. The same seems true for memes. Spaghetti itself is not an absurdist joke. Spaghetti is a vehicle of a joke (to borrow from the language of semiotics). Memes are ways in which we semantically structure parts of our social lives, in many ways, how language does. These memes seem like enclosed, fad-like, viral events. Yet, if we tear them apart and see the reiterated pieces of our conversations, the signs that make them understandable gain meanings through their use and reuse. For you, maybe this is garlic bread, maybe it’s an ironic love of Nic Cage or a very real love of Rihanna or John Green novels. Likely, it’s not even about the memes themselves. Maybe it’s something like music.I really enjoy music that is reminiscent of old Commodore 64 computers. I also really like turtles.

Turtles are the coolest! (Remember that Brian Turtle guy I was talking about? I do. Guess why.) Old Atari and floppy disk videogame soundtracks appeal to me in a way nothing else does. I’ve paid big grad school stipend dollars for books about these things. I care about particular things a good bit. So do you and you probably know what these things are. But chances are, whatever you love, someone else somewhere thinks it’s weird. These “weird” things all weave together into some kind of mess that only goes well topped with sauce and we usually don’t want to separate into their parts because it feels threatening to the dishes we serve.

If anything, we like to romanticize the way we spice things. They’re the secret ingredient or the thing we can’t stop telling people about. These specially spiced and garnished recipes are what makes us different. I don’t know about my spice, but spaghetti is certainly my base. Someone on the other side of my network thinks I don’t know what life is about because I don’t have an curated affinity for energy drinks or some nonsense, and that’s their spice. But their base is what goes unnoticed by everyone else in their group because its so obvious or permeable. It’s like choices of prepositions that make everything that’s more complicated and interesting fit together nicely. We all kind of develop a unique sense of what connects us to other people, but remember that those individuals are unique to us relative to the rest of the universe. Perhaps the most threatening thing to my notion of preordained belief in my identity is that somebody else doesn’t even believe spaghetti makes a good base. It’s inevitably true that someone else thinks this though.

That’s why I study and make memes. Memes are little windows into what matters to these small groups of friends. They’re little gates into inside jokes, thoughts, and stories that we see form well after the story began. They’re even more than that. We are not as “close” to everyone as I’ve just pointed out. Memes also tell us what we’re not. The things we don’t signal, and who doesn’t respond: these are things that tells us what we aren’t. Or at least not yet. Everyone is a lot less similar to the other side of our peer networks than we previously thought. After the 2016 election, it became clear for internet researchers that lots of people were getting lots of misinformation from some not so great sources. The thing that’s striking is that most people knew it was garbage or meaningless, but those that didn’t were seeing lots of things that were always present in their news feeds, on their Facebook page, and were repeatedly in their lives. What was also striking is that people of all kinds fall for them in various ways that are not necessarily explicitly political, like spaghetti, no matter what their education or their political views were. You’ve likely shared something that came from a Russian bot. The social limits and informational redundancy of our networks are what we have called echo-chambers.

I think maybe the echo-chambers already existed prior to the internet, and were perhaps worse then. Maybe, social media just made them more clear to us in how they influence us. Maybe. Regardless, there are signals in our lives which resonate with us, what bounces around our friend groups. These things are signs. We use them to claim we have made sense of things in a common way among our small peer group. Yet, outside of our peer group they often don’t make sense. In a book by Whitney Phillips 4 and Ryan Milner 5 wrote in The Ambivalent Internet 6, “one person’s weird is another person’s Tuesday.” This is true! So my Tuesday is spaghetti and I don’t think I asked for that, but it’s spaghetti-Tuesday everyday. That probably says something about me that I don’t understand, but I want to. Maybe you have real reasons not to share these kinds of things with people. Maybe you are afraid of being called out, or worse, attacked for your differences. This is certainly possible. At least examine the things that affect you for yourself. You might find you’re not exactly trying to escape. You’re probably just trying to learn about the bigger sensory world that you live in. And if you look close enough, you’ll start noticing the things you like are not the same as everyone because you watch hours of people on YouTube sucking at videogames everyday for fun like my housemate. You’re probably weird… just like everyone else.

I told you this was about spaghetti! It’s always about spaghetti!

RIGHTS NOTICE:

This is a pre-print copy of an article written for The Ark, a Syracuse, NY publication and community art space. The Ark provides services for music performance as well as creative arts space, promoting community engagement and a creative space.

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Image Attribution: Alexander O. Smith

  1. Cannizzaro, S. 2016. Internet memes as internet signs: A semiotic view of digital culture. Internetimeemid kui internetimärgid: semiootiline pilk digitaalkultuurile. 44, 4 (Oct. 2016), 562–586. DOI:https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2016.44.4.05. 

  2. Dawkins, R. 2016. Memes: The New Replicators. The Selfish Gene: 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press. 199–210. 

  3. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Wikipedia. 

  4. Phillips, W. 2015. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things : Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. The MIT Press. 

  5. Milner, R.M. 2016. The World Made Meme: Public Conversations and Participatory Media. The MIT Press. 

  6. Phillips, W. and Milner, R.M. 2017. The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online. Polity Press. 

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