• This is Just to Say I Have the in your : Modernist Memes in an Era of Public Apology

    Shawna Ross (see profile)
    Digital Humanists, LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English
    Memes, Poetry, Culture--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    DHSI Conference and Colloquium 2018
    Conf. Org.:
    University of Victoria
    Conf. Loc.:
    Victoria, B.C.
    Conf. Date:
    June 9, 2018
    Twitter, Imagism, Modernism, Internet memes, Poetry and new media, Cultural studies, Public humanities
    Permanent URL:
    The final two months of 2017 witnessed a renaissance of an always-popular meme on Metafilter, Twitter: parodies of William Carlos Williams’s 1934 poem, “This Is Just to Say.” Parodies typically replace nouns and adjectives in this twelve-line, three-stanza Imagist poem. A minimum of six replacements yields an entirely new poem, such that users can quickly adapt the template to many purposes, from a spectrum from the very personal or banal to the very political or profound. Though Mark Sample’s popular Twitter bot, @JustToSayBot, was inaugurated in July 2013, it was in late 2017 that the meme truly rose to public consciousness and became the subject for mass journalism. This paper theorizes the reasons for such the acute upswing in adaptations of this modernist poem, including its suitable length for Twitter. In exploring a tangled network of possible causes, some technological, others cultural, and still others fortuitious (e.g., the peak of a meme about eating just after Thanksgiving in the United States), I apply Sean Rintel’s concept of templatability; danah boyd’s scholarship on memes as replicable, searchable, and persistent; and digital humanities scholarship. Less intuitively, I also enfold critical arguments about celebrity culture by Elaine Lui n to relate this memetic resurgence to the flourishing of public apologies by prominent figures in politics, finance, and the media. I conclude, ultimately, that because the poem allows users to engage in a new, prominent form of public rhetoric—but in a way specific to digital culture. With reference to prominent apologies in late 2017 by figures like Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C. K., as well as paradigmatic apologies by figures like Anthony Weiner, I suggest that users are mocking this new rhetoric of apology, thus demonstrating users’ ability to adapt new forms of persuasion by manipulating Twitter’s constraints.
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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