Citation: White-Farnham, Jamie. “Resisting ‘Let’s Eat Grandma’: The Rhetorical Potential of Grammar Memes.” Computers and Composition, vol. 52, 2019, pp. 210-221.
Class Info/Tags: Upper-Level Writing Course (English 225: Academic Argumentation: Internet Cultures & Digital Lives)
Context of Use: We read this early in our second unit of the course, Artifact Analysis. My aim was to engage students with a challenging scholarly text to practice reading and unpacking academic discourse, and to offer a published example of the genre they would be writing themselves, a deep analysis of internet artifacts revealing unexpected and, in this case, harmful ideologies hiding behind the ostensibly humorous facade of the meme. Students would engage in conversation about the text’s ideas, centering questions around ideologies in language and imagery, and they would also consider how the author presented her analysis, in particular generic conventions around presentation of evidence and analysis and stylistic choices.
“Analysis of 50 grammar memes through the lenses of participatory culture on social media and classical topoi reveals that most grammar memes resist the growing and progressive position that a wide range of Englishes exist and their usage is acceptable. These traditionalist grammar memes perpetuate beliefs about the use of correct English by making claims of superiority. Meanwhile, backlash memes do not take an overt stand against traditionalist grammar arguments when they veer into exclusion and racism. I argue that teachers and students of Writing, English, and English Education should explore more inclusive memes in regards to contemporary language changes and that memes based on a narrative mode of instruction would expand the topoi of grammar memes that exist, interrupting a main two-way argument that dominates the grammar internet subculture today.”
- What do you like about this text? I found this to be a powerful, resonant, relevant text. With some additional thoughtful framing, I would absolutely use this piece in class again.
- What is difficult about this? What surprised me most about students’ response to this text was that while I chose this text to make legible the ways memes insidiously circulate problematic ideologies through social networks, ideologies that then travel back and forth between online discourses and discourses, policies, and practices beyond the internet, students saw the article as defining, rather than critiquing, memes. They meditated on the piece’s audience and purpose, speculating that it seemed like a piece explaining memes to an older generation that just hadn’t encountered them in the wilds of the internet. In other words, while I had read a piece about standard language ideologies, they had read one about imagery on the internet. So, we spent time unpacking the piece together, and by the end of class, they were making connections to a text that had seemed impenetrable at first.
- What scaffolding/preparation needs to happen? In the end, students were engaging with this piece thoughtfully and critically. I had worked to make its meaning visible, but I wished I had set up the reading with some questions to reflect on as they read. I wished I had asked them to think specifically about the circulation of ideologies, and perhaps to find their own examples of problematic memes to consider before we came together to discuss.