Uses and function of watermarks and templates inside the production of memes
By: Adriana Moreno
With the ubiquity of the Internet, the possibilities of expanding and varying the cycle of production and consumption of cultural goods have increased, a sign of this has been the growing participation of users in the production of content such as images, photographs, selfies, music, videos, memes, among others that we find in different social network services and instant messaging.
An example is that of Internet memes. There are memes of any topic that we can imagine and they're available in different languages, the versatility of these contents is infinite, however, something that does not change is that they are produced by someone, with certain communicative intentions and designed for certain groups.
These contents generated by users in many cases have aesthetic features that do not necessarily seek to represent a professional technical work. This characteristic reveals how many people with diverse skills and technical knowledge are able to create their own memes from scratch.
From those that are achieved with minimal technical skills to those that seek to offer a complex aesthetic experience, memes are produced to be shared with a specific group, trying to challenge others with the situation represented, to see and differentiate themselves from others, the latter allows us to find in these contents strong social and cultural components that are worth researching.
The celebration of amateur creation is one of the most fascinating features of memes. Douglas (2014) has called Internet Ugly the characteristic aesthetics of these contents, points out that memes ponder the clumsiness of freehand strokes using the mouse, scanned images and the economy of language, characteristics that add a certain degree of humanity to the compositions that oppose the current aesthetic criteria with which ordered, clean, delicately diffused traits are searched, where spell checkers and image editors are used to eliminating all kinds of errors, which does not necessarily mean that those who create amateur content do not use these tools, on the contrary, they use them with different intentions, thus creating their own beauty standard (Douglas, 2014, p.315).
For the production and consumption of memes, an appropriation of diverse capitals is necessary, where several technologic, economic and cultural resources intervene in this cycle, which generates a chain of creation and extended exchange, in such a way that other people can appropriate these assets and enrich their accumulation. In the case of the creation of memes, users do not necessarily expect an economic gain, but they expect alternative forms of retribution such as the recognition of their work by other users, including followers who share and like the contents that they create, as well as by other pages and their administrators.
This is where an important element appears in the production of memes and their diffusion: Watermarks. The most obvious function of this is to identify the content produced and attract more followers to the original source. However, this element creates a series of interesting practices and exchanges.
This badge serves, on the one hand, as a seal of the quality standard of the person who has produced the content. Each page and administrator establish their own production criteria with which it is sought to keep their repertoire of memes and templates updated, paying special attention to the content as well as the form, defining production and design standards that, in some cases, allow the followers to identify their contents at a glance.
The watermark also functions as an emblem or shield from which the most frequent followers identify themselves. An example is found in pages and groups such as Momos Sad, Legion Sad, Seguidores de la grasa and Legion Hulk, where followers are responsible for feeding them with new content, always with an official watermark or with the initials drawn by hand, but always referring to the group or page to which they belong. These badges are important as a sign of belonging and identity with groups, an issue that is exalted when followers undertake attacks on rival sites to block or suspend them, thus destabilizing the attacked community, who - after the final ban - must rediscover themselves.
Also, the watermark serves as a security element that prevents content theft. This question is interesting, especially when we think of the web 2.0 as space where everyone could appropriate information as well as participate in the production and transmission of it, however, they reproduce forms of appropriation or looting that are common in other spaces.
This is one of the most important uses of the watermark because it seeks to define the ownership of the content and therefore the followers and likes that can win with it. And it is precisely in the number of followers and likes that the work of the creators is recognized, the quality of their contents and their pages, which generally represents a symbolic retribution and, in some cases, an economic remuneration.
The theft of memes represents an unfair and even abusive practice through which power relations have established that dynamic with the effort and time that others have invested in the production of content, thus limiting its scope and the recognition of potential followers. Faced with this debate, there are users, both administrators and followers who post the work "repollo" or "repoio" (among other variations to refer to the word repost in Spanish) when they identify that the contents are not original of the page that publishes them, thereby it reveals a sort of regulation of contents and practices followed by those who produce, vary or propagate them.
Now, in the creation of memes, templates are used, that is, formats that are filled with different information to produce new contents. These templates arise from pre-existing images that are edited to vary the content and thus give it a new meaning that obeys the communicative needs of specific people and groups. Also, these can be found on Internet sites and applications (Meme generator, Know Your Meme, Templates for memes, etc.), which maintain a template database that serves as part of the raw material to produce memes.
Sites and apps dedicated to the production of templates are important in the cycle of production and consumption of memes since not all those who create them have the skills and technical knowledge to produce such images with quality. With these repositories it seeks to correct these faults and thus achieve content with a certain quality that in many cases has nothing to do with aesthetic aspects but resolution, since the contents tend to be lost as they are varied, think for example in cases in those that the templates are taken from memes that have been cut or edited an infinity of times until they are blurred or too pixelated.
This aspect calls into question some of the statements of Douglas (2014) because although the production of memes involves the appropriation of different amateur content, the creators also need legible templates and quality to ensure the success of their memes and avoid negative reactions from their followers, who also participate in the regulation of content through likes and comments. It is possible to find that the followers write "4k" or "ultra HD" referring to the low quality of the templates, which can negatively affect the scope of the contents and the pages managed.
This aspect is interesting while facing the theft of memes because the appropriation of templates is acceptable. The originality and ownership of memes and other content generated by users are important for the community, although the criteria for defining both categories are impossible to generalize.
As we have seen, together with the watermark, the templates are an important element, since they imply an effort and work that the content creators must carry out, from keeping up with the current templates until finding those with a good resolution, are exercises that intervene in the production of memes and that remain hidden behind the joke. However, it is important to mention that these elements are not the only ones that intervene in the production of memes and neither are they the only ones that guarantee the success of the contents, as it is possible to glimpse even when you have great templates you need a particular cultural capital and a sharp sense of humour to identify a situation worthy of making it into a meme.
Although not all the creators of memes nor all the contents meet the criteria indicated in this text, they allow us to make visible a series of practices and efforts that we do not usually see when sharing the memes of our preference however, they are only a starting point to explore the complexity involved in its production, use, and research, given that they are so common, it would seem to have no greater utility than laughing at them yet they allow us to discuss a series of practices and uses assigned to them that offer us the possibility of exploring and discussing the sociocultural contemporary conditions as well as digital culture in general.
* Adriana is a postgraduate student in Anthropological Sciences at UAM-I
** This text was adapted from Spanish and looks into the production of memes in Latin America.
Brzeski, L. (2014). Makes a meme instead: A concise History of Internet Memes. Utrecht University
Douglas, N. (2014). It's supposed to look like shit, The Internet Ugly Aesthetic. En Jornal o Visual Culture, vol. 13 (3). SAGE
Bourdieu, P. (1987). Los Tres Estados del Capital Cultural. En Sociológica. 5, 11-17. Recuperado de: http://www.sociologicamexico.azc.uam.mx/index.php/Sociologica/article/view/1043/1015
Shifman, L. (2014b). Memes in digital culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.