Memes: A Visual Representation of Rhetoric


In my last blog post, I talked about the fact that rhetoric is used all the time in everyday life. It can be used intentionally or without notice. Similarly, memes are something that is popularly used for everything.


From comedic to heartfelt to relatable memes, and even to turning terrible situations into something to laugh at (looking at you World War 3 memes), you can find a meme on any topic or situation. Some memes, however, can be a bit random and confusing with no context whatsoever. Then, there are the memes that were not originally meant to be memes, to begin with.

For example, the video of the pufferfish who eats the carrot. It was supposed to be a video showing people how to prepare and cook a pufferfish. Then the pufferfish moaned. And the video blew up. Likewise, there are old videos on YouTube from 5 or more years prior that turn into memes. People take cringeworthy but funny moments in old videos and make them into a clip. Little to no one had seen them before they were turned into a meme. Believe it or not, these types of memes are all forms of rhetoric.

Rhetoric in Memes

Memes are a visual form of rhetoric. One way they are rhetoric is because they appeal to emotions. Most memes are comical and make people laugh. Some dark humor memes are offensive, making some people chuckle and other people react disgustedly or become slightly upset. Some memes manipulate how people feel by being relatable.

The meme I created uses the format known as Galaxy Brain or Expanding Brain. It is a meme that shows the difference in the brain size of a person who does or believes certain things compared to the others. While this can be offensive to very few people, it is meant to be a joke. Most of the time this format is ironic.

In this meme, it is a joke about “normies,” or people who have no knowledge over memes, having smaller brains than people who create memes. Or, in this case, people who create memes for a class assignment. It is rhetorical because it evokes emotion. Many people will laugh because those who understand this meme would understand its comical value. Or, they will think it is “cringey” and roll their eyes with a smirk. On the other hand, people who do not understand what a normie is will not understand the meme. This would mean they are a normie, and most likely not get offended because they do not know what that is unless they look it up. They would feel confused or forced to look up the term. Either way, the meme forces people to feel some type of emotion, whether they like it or not.

What are Rhetorical Canons?

Piggybacking on the idea that rhetoric is used every day without realizing it, I did not realize that I used rhetorical canons in my meme until now. The Roman philosopher Cicero said that there are five “canons,” or principles, of rhetoric. Those five canons of rhetoric are invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Rhetorical Canons in the Meme

The rhetorical canon invention is the process of coming up with material for a text, or, in this case, a meme. Although I did not come up with the meme format “galaxy brain,” I did come up with the idea of using it. Not only that, but I came up with the words to use on the image; I invented this specific meme.

The rhetorical canon arrangement has to do with the order of the elements. For example, the brains go from small to big instead of big to small or instead of randomly. The text is arranged in a specific order to match the images.

The rhetorical canon style has to do with coming up with the actual words used in the text. The words I chose are in the style of memers, or people who always look at and use memes in their everyday life. I did not choose a professional or serious style because it is not supposed to be serious. It is supposed to be funny. If I used any other style, the message would be taken differently.

The rhetorical canon memory is used because a lot of people have seen this meme format. Plus, people must remember certain made-up terms such as “meme” and “normies” in order to fully understand immediately. They also must understand the meme format itself or it would just look like random images and text.

The rhetorical canon delivery represents how a text is presented to the audience. The meme I created is delivered in a format with comedic and satirical value; meme format. It contains both images and text and with a silly and sarcastic tone.

Overall, the process of making this meme required all of the rhetorical canons listed above.

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