Social Media: @shanghaiobserved

December 12, 2019 at 7:39 am Leave a comment

by Emma Li

For our social media class, the example I brought in was the Instagram meme page @shanghaiobserved. I thought of this because it was a popular account among my friends who have lived in both the US and China or Asia. Thirty of the people I follow also follow this account. All of them have lived in both continents and most are Asian American.

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After the Lopez reading, a few features of this meme page stood out to me. Unlike the social media accounts mentioned in the reading, @shanghaiobserved is not based on celebrity. I also found it interesting that the clips and images are mostly from mainland China but the page is not targeted at Chinese audiences, since Instagram is blocked there. The meme page is instead partially targeting members of the Asian Diaspora and provides a connection to “the homeland.” It bridges hyphenated identities, because the audience needs to be familiar with both the Chinese and English speaking worlds in order to fully understand a lot of the memes.

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The subjects in the memes are sometimes subject to ridicule but they are more often characterized as bold and daring, which can be subversive of the Model Minority myth for its US audience. This reminds me of the Lopez reading, which highlighted the “enthusiastic emphasis [that] is placed on their . . . identities and cultures.” However, this meme page can also expand upon Lopez’ understanding of memes. For one, the page does not create content but rather collects and distributes it. Memes have been understood as the “practice of slightly modifying a very popular framework.” While @shanghaiobserved does include some posts that use popular meme formats in the US, most of its posts are just pictures that do not fit into any specific meme framework, yet they are still widely considered to be memes.

I was surprised to learn that the page’s owner is actually a white guy from New York who only visited China and did not live there for significant amounts of time. Because the page seemed to be so familiar with the nuances of Chinese culture, I assumed that its owner must be Chinese or at least lived in China as an expat. I wonder if internet culture has evolved to such an extent that the page’s owner was able to familiarize himself with these nuances just through Chinese and American social media content.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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