Networked media have certainly changed the means of production and distribution and have opened up participation in ways unimaginable by the gatekeepers of traditional media. Often this participation can be exercised in positive ways, but not always. As our analysis of the Dixie Square Mall meme reveals, sometimes new media can be used to perpetrate old stereotypes.
Indeed, when it comes to the use of the male gaze to assert and reassert power, very little has changed. Mulvey originally theorized the gaze in conditions of Hollywood production in which men were in charge. Although not every participant in this meme is identifiable by gender, for reasons we have just outlined, the meme is clearly dominated by masculine identity. Furthermore, this identity facilitates a new variation on the type of identification associated with the male gaze. The participants are able to identify with each other in a manner similar to the way the viewer might identify with James Bond. We would argue that the participatory culture of memes strengthens this identification, because these participants actively interact and relate to one another in ways they never could with Bond.
Yet, we have to recognize the substance of this interactive form of identification is still the subjugation of the feminine. After all, the Internet meme we have journeyed through consists of masculine violence (actual and symbolic), masculine exploration, and masculine pleasure reveling in the mall’s decay. It also emanates from posters who function as creators of a cinematic and photographic objectifying gaze, not simply as a passive audience of its scopophilic pleasures but also as agents in creating and distributing such pleasures. All of this serves to reassert masculine power over a space where women enjoyed, for just a moment, some power of their own. In the case of the Dixie Square Mall, the meme culture has merely crowdsourced sexism.
The Internet, too, has often been offered up as a dangerous place for women. Indeed there are plenty of obvious examples of this danger, what with the proliferation of pornography online, and the recent case of the Craigslist killer. These examples are not reasons for women to stay offline, but instead should activate feminist critics to be diligent to identify and call out the sexism that occurs online in all its forms. Therefore, we offer this project to show that while Internet memes may be identified by an innocuous set of characteristics, they must also be critically investigated for the ideologies they perpetuate. We have purposely chosen an object of study that is rather abstract, because oppression and aggression can sometimes be more effective when it is at its most subtle. Indeed, the symbolic exercise of phallic power was of utmost concern to feminist critics of more traditional forms of media. The emergence of new forms of media, like Internet memes, should in no way distract feminists from continuing to interrogate the symbolic. The Dixie Square Mall may never again be a safe place for women, but feminist critics should still challenge use of sexual violence to subjugate women, even when it occurs abstractly and online.