Despite (or because of) its many flaws, The Rocky Horror Picture Show remains one of the most popular cult films of all time, and is therefore prone to incessant GIFing. After nearly 40 years, abysmal critic reviews, and a depressing sequel, Rocky Horror continues to adapt and flourish in social media, especially Tumblr. But what exactly makes this movie so memetic?
A meme, according to Shifman, is “a shared social phenomenon” with three distinct qualities: “propagation from individuals to society,” reproduction (through remix or imitation), and diffusion (18). Rocky Horror not only possesses these qualities, but has been able to maintain them since it gained an audience circa 1976. As a cult classic, it relied almost entirely on the few individuals that originally saw its potential at midnight screenings and then spread the word. Imitations began soon after it became more popular, with audience members frequently dressing up to view the movie. In the digital age, remixes, or “technology-based manipulations,” (Shifman, 22) are more popular across social media and refresh the aging film by connecting it with current events.
Finally, although there are plenty of screencaps and still remixes, the vast majority of Rocky Horror’s diffusion has been through GIFs (graphic interchange format). These short, infinitely looping animations can be created in numerous photo-editing softwares, such as Photoshop, simply by uploading and cropping MP4 files. GIFs can be used to show witty lines, expressions, even whole scenes in GIFsets. However, the most common usage is reaction GIFs, which can be used to increase social presence and eliminate miscommunications often associated with less media-rich forms of communication.
Social presence, which Baym describes as “how interactants perceive one another,” especially in nonverbal cues such as facial expression (52-53). Reaction GIFs, such as the one I created below, provide a facial expression (even if it is not the interactants’), as well as the implication that the statement should be regarded as a joke. I had my heart set on making this GIF since the first time I heard my professor’s name.
Reaction GIFs generally have a normal statement, or caption, along with a GIF that relates to the sentence itself (usually the caption comes before the reaction). Text can be actual dialogue or from the GIF maker for increased customization, although text at all is not necessary.
Reaction GIF have been used to enrich websites and conversations that would take place in medium with low-richness. Media richness is a term coined by Daft and Lengal in 1984 to describe a mediums “information-carrying capacity,” (Baym, 53). As seen in the video seen in class, media with low richness is prone to miscommunications and misunderstandings. Reaction GIFs help to “convey feelings and emotions,” (Baym, 53), and therefore increase the richness of various social media sites.
Altogether, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s memetic qualities plus GIFs’ spreadability and richness make a vast social trend that has thus far lasted 39 years, with no signs of stopping.
Baym, Nancy K. “Communication in Digital Spaces.” Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. PDF.
Shifman, Limor. Memes In Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014. PDF.
GIF sources are linked in their respective captions