Last week, Gucci released a line of “memes.” Their website tells us that “The word ‘meme’ was coined by the British biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 to mean an ‘imitated thing,” and that memes are “the common currency of social media.” The memes feature pictures of Gucci watches, often captioned to imply the text lingo “TFW” (that feeling when) followed by something about the picture (i.e. “TFW you get a new watch but you don’t have any friends to show it to”). This has been heralded by the art world as a way that Gucci stays ‘ down with the kids. ’
Gucci is a corporation.
In Postscript on the Societies of Control, Gilles Deleuze writes, “In a society of control, the corporation has replaced the factory, and the corporation is a spirit, a gas” (pp. 4). In the corporation of Deleuze’s understanding, competition is encouraged, and individuals oppose each other. Deleuze explains this as capitalism “for being sold and marketed” rather than capitalism “for production” (pp. 6).
Anyone with access to a computer and Google images can make a meme. I can’t reset the time on my Casio watch, but I can make a meme (Deleuze describes disciplinary societies in part through tools, such as clocks, and this example might prove his point). A meme requires basic thought, information, and computing, but not much else. A meme is not commonly thought of as a tool of capitalist society; and in fact, in my experience, memes often critique capitalism. I put meme in quotes above, because it is not entirely clear to me what the Gucci memes seek to imitate, other than memes themselves. I would like to think that it takes some soul to create a meme. But, as Deleuze reminds us, “Marketing has become the center or the ‘soul’ of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world” (Deleuze 6). Gucci’s attempt at the meme can be seen as much as an attempt to make capital as anything else — they themselves identify a meme as a “common currency.”
The memes are captioned by already established meme makers and curators of Twitter and Instagram. Gucci asked these “Meme-makers” to create text in order to transform the photographs of the products into “digital artifacts.”
While the Gucci meme may just be seen as a marketing campaign, it must also be recognized that this is an attempt by a corporation to capitalize on the institution of the meme that often rejects capitalism and corporate systems. The monetization and capitalization on political messages or cultural phenomena can be seen elsewhere besides Gucci’s use of the meme — brands like Forever 21 and Brandy Melville have made profits on t-shirts that say things like “Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way,” and “Feminist.” The trouble with the use of the Gucci Meme is that it exists in spaces where the consumer does not realize that an exchange is taking place; on Instagram, a Gucci meme could come up on your feed as a targeted advertisement, or on your discover page. The Gucci memes attempt to evoke feelings, and to relate to the consumer. The meme formats helps in this goal, because the meme itself has become a tool through which we can better make sense of the world. When a corporation is attempting to take an advertisement, and tries to hide it as something else, we must remember that they are doing so with the end goal of making a sale.
Gucci suggests that their memes will reach “new eyes and new purposes,” yet it is difficult to believe how this can happen. The purpose of the Gucci meme, as an advertisement, is to sell a product. The meme, though, must be understood as more than just a form of currency. The commodification of a meme detracts from it as a form of resistance, or a way to imitate the values of capitalist society. In order to ask whether or not the Gucci “meme” may exist as a meme, we must also ask if a meme’s value as a “currency of social media” can be exchanged for currency in the markets; in this place, in Gucci stores. To understand a meme as a form of resistance in a society of control raises a question of whether it can exist as such and have a market value at the same time. Gucci will most likely not be the last corporation to exploit the “meme,” but if they will ever truly succeed in making a meme “memeingfull” remains to be seen.
Deleuze, Gilles (1992) Postscript on the Societies of Control
Hyland, Veronique. “Gucci Releases Its Spring Line of Luxury Memes.” The Cut. NY Mag, 17 Mar. 2017. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.