GIFs, Memes, and Everything in Between

In the world of digital media, words are becoming less significant while images are becoming more relevant in conveying one’s inner thoughts. GIFs, or graphic interchange format files, are short, soundless clips from a television show, movie, or some kind of video media. Many times, these are seen on websites like tumblr or imgur to convey some idea or reaction towards a certain subject. In my studies of this element, I took to tumblr to find the perfect Parks and Recreation GIFs specifically with Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope. Some of these GIFs had captions from the show itself, others had originally made captions, and some had no captions at all. This made me wonder if the type of caption the GIF had would contribute to its overall meaning? For example, the below meme has a caption from the show itself. However, the caption typed into the “comments” section from the original poster said something along the lines of “every college student”.


Even without seeing the show, I feel many people could relate to this GIF and comment, however, only watchers of the show would understand that Leslie Knope is an overachiever whom does not do well without structure. The semiotics to a non-watcher of the show might be in the context of staying up late one night doing homework and getting very little sleep. A watcher might direct it more towards someone who is normally well organized but slipped up and is in the midst of a panic attack, like Leslie Knope. While still very closely related, the two different backgrounds can lead to slightly different readings of the overall meaning of the GIF when used with captions from the show.

In contradiction, this next GIF used a caption not originally from the show. This was much easier to decipher because one could still have the same understanding even without knowing the character. The caption simply describes the image so the GIF would not lose meaning without the caption.

Based on this observation, I decided to create a GIF that had original relatable text because I knew there would be fewer questions as to whether or not non-watchers would understand the meaning increasing its chances of longevity in the competitive meme world.

My original GIF (Note: the caption is not from the show)

My original GIF (Note: the caption is not from the show)

The more relatable a GIF is, image and caption, the longer its span because the more willing people would be to use it in conversation and therefore “share it” (Shifman 17, 19). This “shared social phenomenon” relates to convergence culture because many times, when a GIF or any meme is shared frequently, new products can arise from their popularity. For example, this Ron Swanson merchandise is obviously based on the character and one of his more popular quotes which probably gained popularity through the repetition of a GIF from that moment.                      


Granted, many of the products related to Parks and Recreation are probably from the show itself but the relationship between show to GIF to product is still there just not as linear of a relationship as, say, a product based solely on a GIF like these shirts based on the original dancing baby GIF.


This shared social phenomenon that is a GIF can have such an impact on our digital culture. It emphasizes something that people would normally not put much thought into and can lead to new ideas or even products all based on the popularity contest that is the Internet (Shifman 22).


Mercer, Alex. “Dancing Baby.” Know Your Meme News. N.p., 2010. Web. 07 Feb. 2015.

Shifman, Limor. Memes In Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014. PDF.


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