The Centre for Story Based Strategy (formerly SmartMeme) is a non-profit training collective that works to empower and strength social movements through meme theory. They work with social justice movements to enhance story telling narratives and seep into dominant culture to change social attitudes and assumptions. SmartMeme works closely with youth and host a number of awesome resources for social movements on their website.
What's a meme?
Memes (rhymes with dreams) are an internet based phenomenon. They are concepts that are funny, witty or interesting that get shared, remixed and parodied all over the web. They can be hyperlinks, hashtags, animated gifs, videos or images. A good parallel would be songs that kids sing while jumping rope in a playground. No one can really remember where they started, but everyone seems to know them. That's the biggest defining factor of a meme, that it is widespread and recognizable. They often "go viral" and spread very quickly online. They reflect a moment in time within internet culture. Very few memes endure the test of time; they will become obsolete within months. Memes often relate to social interactions, pop culture references, or common social situations. Know your Meme is the biggest database that actually traces and monitors the lifespan of memes.
Just like political views were expressed in children's rhymes (about racism, sexism and oppression) cultural expressions, values and norms are found in memes. They are atoms of culture that both reflect and shape what culture is. Memes are often created as forms of guerrilla marketing, public relations or advertising. This shapes the messages that accompany memes. Many memes play on old sterotypes and tropes that are tired and oppressive.
There's also an opportunity to use memes to shape culture in a different way, spark discussion about social issues and bring a new awareness to your campaign. Memes typically have stories attached to them that people are interested in. Crafting a compelling meme isn't about gimmick - it's about story telling. Pepper spraying cop is a great example of this. This meme took an injust act (and above all a story) to hundreds of thousands of people online who followed the story all the way to trial.
Another example is the successful campaign by National Domestic Worker's Alliance. They used the hashtag #BeTheHelp to harness the popularity of the movie The Help to actually start a conversation about how domestic workers are treated.
The Centre for Story Based Strategy has been a part of countless campaigns by partnering with groups working for environmental, social and political change. Their work with the Unity Alliance continues to hold the Bank of America accountable through the Bank vs America meme.
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