The series Archer first aired in 2009 and gained attention and wide reception because of the outrageous scenarios in each episode. From the first episode the main character, Sterling Archer, epitomized the extraordinary snappy scumbag that people secretly wish they could transform into during arguments.
Because the medium of Internet expression known as GIFs (graphic interchange format) was already well established by the time Archer premiered in 2009 memorable moments from the first season were quickly diffused using GIFs. By their nature GIFs convey significantly more expression than text or even memes (still images usually with text) alone. GIF’s can be used in lieu of facial expressions or body language to bring online discussions closer to actual face-to-face conversations. GIFs are relatively easy to make and personalize by simply importing MP4 files into Adobe Photoshop and trimming the length to capture the precise moment that their user wants to display. The GIFs that circulate around Archer have also bee used outside of the context of the TV series to convey or emphasize expression.
In her book, Personal Connections In The Digital Age, Nancy Bayms compared Presence Theory and Media Richness Theory. Where Social Presence theory considered the degree to which participants identified one another as present in a conversation depending on the medium of conversation, Media Richness theory evaluated the spectrum of most informative (or “rich”) to least informative (or “lean”) mediums of communication in accordance to their appropriateness for performing certain tasks (Baym 52-53). Social Presence theorists mostly considered synchronous interactions like video conferencing, face-to-face interaction and audio conferencing putting GIFs at a disadvantage due to their less instantaneous nature (usually posted as a reaction minutes to days after a conversation is initiated). However, because of the importance that Social Presence theory places on non-verbal cues I would have to assume that GIFs would be ranked as more personal than audio conferencing-the lowest common denominator for Social Presence theory. Media Richness theory has four criteria: speed of feedback, ability to communicate multiple cues, use of natural language and ability to readily convey feelings and emotion (Baym, 53). GIFs communicate multiple cues, feelings and emotion, natural language but can vary in terms of speed of feedback. Still GIFs satisfy ¾ of the criteria making it more dynamic through Media richness theory than Social Presence.
Both theories in Bayms article qualified as “cues filtered out” approaches that supposedly lead to the online trend of arguments called “flaming” (due to the lack of social cues). However the conclusion that Baym came to in her article was that people are more likely to flame to demonstrate that they were aware that they were violating social norms (Bayms, 58). For this reason it wouldn’t be uncommon to announce a person’s intent to flame in an over-the-top manner that coincides with their message, hence the <flame on> designations that were popular in the 90’s. I used my GIF to emphasize the initiation of online conflict and associated “chest thumping” with an image of a coke-fueled Pam roaring.
Baym, Nancy K. “Communication in Digital Spaces.” Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. PDF.