Sunday, October 30, 2011

Complacent Reynolds and the Art of Meme-making

I have the unfortunate distinction of being a Baltimore Orioles fan. Last summer, one of our players, Mark Reynolds, became the subject of an Internet meme that got a lot of attention in the baseball world. The Orioles were playing the Red Sox, and David Ortiz had just hit a homerun. A photo from the game showed Ortiz rounding the bases while Reynolds nonchalantly munched on some sunflower seeds in the background. The image became known as “Complacent Reynolds.” Fans began photoshopping the image into other famous photographs such as Tiananmen Square and the VJ-Day kiss in Times Square. One of my favorites is below. It was one of the few things an O’s fan could laugh at.

Uploaded by Birds of B'more
In class this week, Prof. Hayden asked us to consider the process of creating a meme. Questions to be asked include “who is the intended audience” and “what is the objective.” To answer these questions, I began thinking about the Complacent Reynolds meme. At first, I thought it was geared toward baseball fans. But now I realize that it can resonate with an extremely wide audience. It doesn’t take a profound knowledge of baseball, or any sport for that matter, to find humor in a guy complacently eating sunflower seeds instead of paying attention to his job. Obviously, the most successful memes are the ones that appeal to the widest audiences. They should be simple and relatable, like Complacent Reynolds.

This meme was also successful because of its interactivity. Whereas some funny photos and videos are just meant to be passed along, Complacent Reynolds thrived on creativity. People were encouraged to create their own takes on the meme. Many people posted their original versions to an online forum for Orioles fans. The objectives of this meme were to make people laugh and to inspire them to participate. The meme accomplished those goals well.

Another question addressed in class was how to “drop” the meme into a network. This is where I believe the Complacent Reynolds meme fell short of its potential. Although the meme’s content could appeal to just about anyone, many people never stumbled across it. Propagators of the meme could have posted it to sites that are more widely accessed than an Orioles forum. But where would that be? YouTube is the obvious choice for posting a video meme, but a still image presents a challenge. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to make a photo or graphic go viral? 


  1. A very entertaining and interesting example to bring up, Gabby. I'd like to address your question of meme-making with what may seem like an "easy way out" solution, but I feel it has a lot of grounding. I simply do not think there is a formula for creating a viral meme, it has to do with creating the appropriate content at the correct time, in the correct area on the network with the correct medium.

    Perhaps there could be some skill with calculating just where, when and how to do these, but I don't feel like it's a sealed deal if someone creates a meme that it will take off if certain steps are followed. Memes become so popular in part because they can be so unique. I don't think the parents who posted Charlie Bit Me or the boy singing Chocolate Rain ever preemptively leaked their videos in a particular venue knowing it would go viral.

    I do applaud your thoughts on why some memes go as far as they do because of creativity and universal appeal. This is one of a number of examples of memes that people feel they can respond to and interact with, which makes it more popular. I'd like to bring up a different kind of meme in this regard. The girl in South Korea who was shamed publicly for letting her dog use the bathroom in a public metro was the victim of another kind of meme, this one enforcing social norms. The viral nature of that video did have meme quality in that people altered the photo and made it funny, but it had the opposite affect in that it wasn't self-produced.

  2. Hey Corey, thanks for your comment. I didn't mean to suggest that all memes need to be created with the intention of spreading like wildfire. But I do think that we could prescribe a formula for those who want to start an Internet sensation.

    The example of the "dog poop girl" is also very interesting because initially it was not meant to be funny. It was meant to condemn someone for her abnormal behavior and publicly shame her. As we can say from this example, memes can be used as powerful network tools. They can raise awareness of otherwise unimpressive events.

    You bring up another characteristic of viral memes, which I think refines what I originally wrote in my post. They should be emotionally evocative. Whether they evoke laughter or moral outrage, the most successful memes should have this quality.