Projet de recherche, financement RCDAV 2017–2019
Haute école d’art et de design – Genève

Reacting to Current Events

On social networks, current events are often appropriated as subjects. It is a method by which users can actively comment upon events, whether with conviction or derision. In 2017, a group of students decided to react to the increasing tensions with North Korea.

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On social networks, one frequently finds commentary on current events using appropriated images of visuals that are then parodied. For example, election campaigns elicit a plethora of ingenuity, and there are countless candidate posters that have been modified for satirical purposes. Just after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Artistic Director Joachim Roncin invented the slogan “Je suis Charlie.” This visual, which spread like wildfire through social networks in the space of an hour after uploading, has now become an icon that has itself been shared and appropriated throughout the world. In turn, an exponential number of individuals modified their profile photographs in order to post their solidarity with the victims of the attack on the paper. It evoked a sense of generalized mourning, as if each person were flying a flag at half-mast. Images are often appropriated to express humor and enthusiasm, as well as anger and political opinions. Users appropriate the original message in order to amplify it or highlight its contradictions.

In the autumn of 2017, relations between North Korea and the United States were tense, notably regarding the sensitive topic of nuclear weapons. Consequently, students Nancy-Lara Millan, Maciej Czepiel and Leonard Rossi decided to comment upon this situation by distributing modified portraits of Korea’s dictator on the 9gag platform.

9gag, a Platform and its Community

Less well-known than traditional platforms, 9gag has a community that is very involved in the formal aspects of online publications.

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Created in 2008, the 9gag platform counts approximately 200 million monthly visits, who make up an active and committed community. Less well-known than Facebook or Instagram, it provides a means for its users to disseminate images or videos. These are initially published on a page that shows all the most recent content, and then the community votes on it. As long as the content garners positive votes from the community, the image maintains a prominent place on the page. Once a certain number of positive votes are acquired, the piece earns a place on the Trending page, and then it contends for a place on the Hot page, dedicated to the most successful publications.

The students created several versions of a portrait of Kim Jong-Un in order to understand the mechanisms of audience behavior. They then gradually modified the visuals and captions based upon comments received. Through these exchanges, they learned how to communicate more effectively within the 9gag community, using its codes in order to generate more visibility.

KIM KARDASHI-UN: birth, life, death and resurrection of a meme

As a reaction to the current situation in North Korea, the students distributed a portrait that combined portraits of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Kardashian on the 9gag platform. The image became a meme that sometimes surfaces on the Internet.

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The publication of a portrait with the face of the Korean leader Kim Jong-Un morphed with the American celebrity Kim Kardashian elicited many reactions. The [initial] title “Kim Kardashian-Un” was a play on words based on a contraction of both their names – a type of humor that very appreciated in the world of 9gag.

This portrait was published on September 5, 2017, at a time of high activity. It rapidly obtained a high number of positive votes and interesting comments, particularly after it made it to the Trending page. This enabled the team to hone the message and observe the level of involvement of the community. For example, cybernauts suggested modifying the play on names from “Kim Kardashian-Un” to “Kim Kardashi-Un.” Thus, on 9gag, the community is implicated in the publications, and they sometimes involve themselves as much with their form as their substance.

The image became a meme, showing up on social networks several months later. There are even signs of its continued circulation today. Nevertheless it is fairly difficult to verify the entire relationship, that is to say whether these images are consequences, copies of the original meme or completely new recreations.

Each platform has its specificities, codes and uses. The humoristic or even typographical codes of 9gag are relatively calibrated. Here, the students chose to focus upon only one image, to have it evolve in a way that would reflect these codes. The “errors” in their image elicited comments and exchanges and directly contributed to the maintenance of the image at the height of the site’s rankings. Here, the task consisted of adapting to the platform’s community, using the evolution of the image as a means of communicating with users.