Know Your Meme: Finding the Exigence

Document created by Samantha Storms on Sep 5, 2019Last modified by Leah Rang on Sep 11, 2019
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Assignment by Shannon Butts, Bedford New Scholar 2019


Exigence is an issue, problem, or situation that prompts someone to speak out. In short, the exigence is the reason a text exists. Understanding the exigence requires understanding the current rhetorical situation or ecology. What happened? To who? Why? What will speaking out do? How does a text address exigence? How should it?


For this activity, you will look at how memes have become a popular form of speaking out – a type of “image event” designed to respond to a specific situation.



For the past few weeks, we have been discussing how writing connects to a rhetorical situation, but also how writing circulates through dynamic ecologies. Writers use images, audio, and text to create and remix persuasive messages, addressing original concerns and adapting messages to speak to a different audience or issue. Writing moves and changes to explain, argue, summarize, and persuade. To understand how to write to an audience and with an evolving issue, we need to understand the current conversation as well as the original argument.



In groups of three, you will pick a popular meme and find the original exigence – the first time your meme was used as a meme. Remember to practice good research methods for finding good sources and supporting your ideas. You are welcome to find the source image, but we are looking for the first time the image was used as part of a specific argument, as a meme. What situation did the meme address? Consider the following questions of exigence:


Key Questions

  • Why did a writer create the text?

  • What is the writer responding to? Why are they speaking out?

  • What does the meme point out?

  • What possible solutions might the writer be suggesting?

  • What is missing from the meme to create a clear argument?

  • How can additional knowledge about the rhetorical situation/ecology help frame the argument or response?


Remix and Redress

Once you have found the original use, find three more times your meme was used to address a specific issue. Research the exigence for each time – what is the background? Who is the audience? What is the situation? What does the author hope to achieve? What is missing from such a simplistic argument form? Can you spot any logical fallacies?


Know Your Argument: Fill in the Gaps

Good writers often create argument by noticing gaps in logic or using clear research to create a causal chain. Using one of the meme’s you found and the exigence, create your own claim or thesis. Consider the resources you found about the issue or situation. What are the key components of the issue? What kind of support would you need to make a claim? What kind of gaps did you notice and how could you develop an argument to address the exigence?


Be ready to present your research and claims to the class.