A Culture Theory of Reaction GIFs

Das Blog der Library of Congress hat ein extrem interessantes Interview mit Jason Eppink, der grade eine Ausstellung über Reaction GIFs kuratierte und über die kommunikatorische Rolle von GIFs im Kontext von Linguistik und Urheberrecht nachdenkt.

Die Stelle mit den Copyrights und der memetischen Funktion von GIFs sollte man auch unbedingt im Zusammenhang mit Abmahnung von irgendwelchen Vollpfostenagenturen und ihren News-Bildchen von Iron Men und Schlangenkuchen lesen und das ist genau das kulturelle Argument gegen Copyright, das viel zu selten in der Urheberrechtsdebatte auftaucht – weil an der fast nur Politiker und Wirtschaftsfuzzies und Juristen teilnehmen, die so ganz generell eher keinerlei Ahnung von gar nix haben.

We have a bias towards authorship when it comes to images because we’re transitioning from a world where image production was materially expensive. We expect the image to have an author because of the fundamental relationship of authorship to the economics of producing cultural artifacts. But today images are as cheap and prolific as the air that we utter our words with.

Maybe reaction GIFs are like slang. I’m fascinated by the history of the word “okay.” Historians are trying to track down who originally spoke those two syllables, but the more significant story is that a slang word caught on because enough people started repeating it, and now it’s an indispensable part of our vocabulary. What’s interesting is how the GIFs in this exhibition, not any of the other millions of GIFs that have been made and largely forgotten, struck a chord with enough people that they started using the GIFs as their own, and how those GIFs bubbled up to the surface to become significant artifacts for some fairly large online communities.

The question of “who made the first version of this specific reaction GIF” is certainly a valid inquiry, but it gets murky very quickly, just like historical “firsts” always do. And you’re right, that would be an enormous project outside the scope of this exhibition. I did track down all the original sources these reaction GIFs were derived from, but in the end decided not to include them in the exhibit because that was beside the point; it was contextualizing them incorrectly. This exhibit is not about who made the reaction GIFs or where they came from but who uses them; not the old meanings they were derived from but the new meanings they’ve been given.

Exhibiting .gifs: An Interview with curator Jason Eppink (via Copyfight)