SCMS 2016

This is a short selection of “Communicating with the Homologlyph: Mimesis, Visual Culture, and Commodification as Culture.” I will present the full version of this paper with Jamie Cohen at the 56th Annual Society for Cinema & Media Studies (SCMS) Conference, spring 2016.


Figure 1 Minion-Pepe, a visual remix of Univesal’s Minions and Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog.


This article offers a diagrammatic approach to understanding Internet language as both an outgrowth of Internet culture and the technologies that make such a culture possible. It is, in a more generalized way, a take on what Hannah Giorgis (2015) cites as a “21st century meta-language.” It relies on the economic contrast of our most popular memes, but also thinks the production of Internet language in a new way. Our approach to this techno-communicative problem is therefore media archaeological. Following figures like Jussi Parikka (2012: 2), we are interested in producing a sedimented and layered material history of Internet language that looks for “insights from past new media.” Our central concept is novel by linguistic standards, but commonplace by those of the Internet—so commonplace in fact that we currently lack a critical apparatus to articulate how image and text are co-evolving into their own visual language. This is certainly a problem endemic to the Minions/Pepe controversy over dank and rare memes.

We address the cultural and linguistic dimensions of contemporary Internet communication by arguing that much of the language we currently use and see online functions as a homologlyph—a play on pictographic text and homolographic projection. Both a variation of homology and a synonym for cartography, homolographic projection is a concept that originates in mathematical geography. It attempts to identify and visualize parts of diffuse objects with common proportions. In the map of the globe presented below, the attempt to display continents in proportion by latitudinal and longitudinal degree is homolographic. It attempts to preserve correct angles and shapes to demonstrate various objects’ proportion to each other in an equal area. Thought as a visual-linguistic act, the glyph and homolographic projection combine in the media archaeological character of memes as they layer. As memes are remixed, the shape of the image, the typography, and the location of the text, becomes the basis for mimetic visual communication. The proportion and degree to which a meme’s inherent elements are preserved as they are remixed is the homologlyphic trace.


Figure 2: An example of homolographic projection (also known as Mollweide Projection).


Homologlyphs find their significance in the dissemination of common shapes and aesthetic markers across various memes. For every homologlyph, there exists a corresponding set of images, typography, and grammatical morphology capable of being traced to other memes and platforms. A homologlyph is therefore a visual mode of communication that plays on acts of correspondence and difference throughout a given meme’s material history, giving it a correspondent function to other memes and modes of communication. A homologlyph is also a neologism particular to the development of Internet culture, but one that evidences a much broader techno-linguistic record. Its genesis is tap-type, it evolved with T-9, and embraced the QWERTY keyboard in ways that we have only begun to understand. At the same time, the homologlyph was conceived with the digital camera, matured with the camera phone, and surpassed our imagination with the popularization of the smartphone, making it easier to combine text and image into a single communicable product. A homologlyph is an image macro that requires the aid of a photo manipulation program like Photoshop to add layers to new and preexisting memes. It also requires a social media community to produce, spread, and (re)mix, especially those that are visually literate on platforms like Instagram and Imgur, but also 4chan, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on.


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