Digital artifacts

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Jessica’s post—the “prison pony” macro—has stuck with me. The image introduces a bit of humor into a topic that we are ladening with such sobriety. How can we make jokes about the somber topic of mass incarceration? I think the prison pony image can be a good starting point for discussion by prompting questions like “Why do you find prison funny?” or “Do you think of prisoners as only people who wear prison stripes?” These questions are designed to discomfort the visitor—to nudge them to think beyond humorous stereotypes that often obscure injustice underneath. And as we know, alienating your visitor is not a good strategy no matter how seriously you take your topic, so contextualizing discomfort within familiar pop-culture discourses of humor, may be a more effective strategy.

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I’ve seen image macros used in history exhibits twice recently. First is in the NUEVOlution! exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South. “Thank You Jesus” appeared in a section on pop culture representations of Latino migrants. The second is in the The Force of Pop Culture Star Wars exhibit at the WNC office in Asheville. This was one of an array of Star Wars macros.

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These are artifacts of the digital age, like a spinning wheel is the artifact of the colonial era. It evokes both memories and connection. It can be used as a tool—not just an object of reverence and demonstration—but as a prompt for discussion. The two times I’ve seen them recently, they’ve been just illustrations. They can be so much more.

How could you utilize these in exhibits?

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