Images Thought Bubbled by Stefan Stenudd
What they just might be thinking...I got the idea to try the Internet "meme" thing — pictures with words added to them, with the aspiration of adding some meaning as well.
Image and text is the comic strip thing, so I used bubbles for the text and pictures of people (mostly). They are thinking silently, contemplating on their own, so I used thought bubbles, of course. That's how they are mute. No speaking out.
At first I published the mute memes on Facebook, one after the other, having fun with the responses. That was in July, 2015, starting on the 5th and ending on the 10th. During those few days, I became almost manic, not stopping until I had made over 60.
Most but not all of them are here, ending with the same image with which I ended my Facebook bombardment. As you can see it has to be the last one.
As for the other images, the order is not that significant. I wanted a mix that would sort of sharpen the audiences' idea of what this project is and is not. Below, I keep the order by which they were introduced on Facebook, so that you get the same impression, although without having to wait between them.
Occasionally, I also give some comments about my thoughts on the Facebook responses — or the lack of them.
As for the meme phenomenon, Wikipedia has two articles about it. One is about the term and its historical examples, the other about the Internet meme culture:
This was the first mute meme I published on Facebook. It got 15 likes and a few comments, most of them dealing with the meme phenomenon as such. Actually, when I made this one I didn't immediately think of doing more. This was something I wanted to say as a comment on the often sad state of humankind, and I found the meme way doing it forcefully. But once I did this one, other ideas started popping up.
This is the second one I made, staying with a strict theme — central religious characters and reflections on how their thoughts have been neglected. It caught on more than the above one did, getting 46 Facebook likes (more than any other of my mute memes), a couple of shares, and a few comments that focused on the message.
Next, I jumped from sacred characters to the very opposite, but staying with a social message of a somber nature. Hitler is not very popular, at least not among my Facebook friends. He only got nine likes and one comment.
Bending the theme a bit, I went to a symbolic figure for another message about the state of our society. The blindness of Justitia is supposed to mean that she makes no difference between high and low, when making her judgment. But far too often her blindness seems instead to be to the justice she represents. She got six likes, one share and a comment. Maybe most people have already given up on her.
Famous movie actors are not that far from symbolic creatures like the above Justitia. Arnold's Transformer character has become an archetype of sorts. I had to play with it by associating him with the greatest dramatic character of them all. One of my Facebook friends pointed out that Arnold has actually made a mock version of Hamlet as an action hero, which can be found on YouTube. Imagine that. With my mute meme, though, he only got two likes.
So, I took the step to an inanimate object. There have been some moon landings and they sure were spectacular things when it all began. But then it dawned on us that there is not much to do on the moon. We could go there, but why return? The poor moon has been deserted. Nor did it get more than five Facebook likes, and not a single comment. I find this mute meme kind of cute, though.
This one was really just for fun. The photo gave me the idea, but I was searching for Einstein photos thinking of other mute memes for him. I got no comment but 16 likes. Einstein's still got it. Our favorite genius.
I'm not sure my Facebook friends were equally delighted, but I was having more and more fun with my memes. And I did get 13 likes for this image of the four communism elders — Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. The former two really have much more impressive beards than the latter. Stalin, the most infamous of them, has no more than a mustache. That should tell you something.
This is one of my favorites, but it only got two likes from my Facebook friends. Either they were fed up with my memes popping up one after the other, or they didn't relate to Mona-Lisa's impatience. I was simply thinking of her sitting as a model for Leonardo, hour after hour, day after day. It took time to make a painting like that one. She was probably bored. The reason I'm so fond of this image is that I find it quite plausible that her mysterious smile is nothing but the result of her being increasingly bored. You try it in front of a mirror. No matter how Cheshire cat big your smile is at the beginning, by time it will be more and more like that of Mona Lisa. Look at her smile again. Her lips have a slight twist, but her eyes have stopped smiling long ago. She wants to do something else.
Among my friends, Superman is much more popular than Mona-Lisa. He got eleven likes. I was thinking about the multi-layered aliases: the actor Christopher Reeve disguised as Superman disguised as Clark Kent. So, who is he, indeed?
This is also a favorite of mine, and among my Facebook friends as well. It got nine likes and a bunch of comments. They mostly played on the identity of the boy, not obvious at all from the photo — were it not for its time period and Prague written in one corner. I am sure that Kafka as a young boy did as most youngsters do — dreamed of how much he would enjoy growing up and getting to live the life he wanted. As if any grownups get to do that.
This one was also popular among my Facebook friends, with 14 likes. Munch's famous painting is about screaming, but it needed a reason for the scream. Here it is a joke, but think of it — after less than five billion years, the earth will be consumed by solar fire. Yes, it is far ahead in the future, but it is doom nonetheless. What's the point of human quest for improvement and excellence, when the end is already set? Well, by then we can probably space travel through worm holes or whatever. If so, we can stay alive to watch the universe dissolve into a cold and dark nothingness. Feel like screaming?
This Gandhi photo looks suspiciously much like an arranged PR shoot. He seems to have no clue as to what he is doing. But he probably did. There are other photos around from that moment, taken by a newspaper photographer, if I remember correctly. Anyway, I found this modest setting to be fitting for his mute meme about poverty. I don't think Gandhi ever said something like that, but I think he should have. Accepting poverty is noble, but it also means giving in to the parasites. He got 13 likes from my Facebook friends. No wonder, since he is still an idol to many.
This tiger being fed by a Buddhist monk got as many as 17 likes from my Facebook friends, and a couple of good-spirited comments. I am ambiguous about the tigers kept at a monastery, for tourists to come and take selfies with. The tigers may seem tame, but they are probably just economical like every wild animal. As long as they are fed, they accept — upto a point. After all, they are still tigers.
I actually posted this image on Facebook the same day Dalai Lama had his 80th birthday — by coincidence. I wasn't aware of it until moments later. Or maybe I had the photo made that day or the day before and decided to post it on the 6th of July, because of his birthday. At least I am sure that I made it before realizing his birthday was coming up. What he thinks is what I have thought about him for some time, now. He says such platitudes, judging from all those quotes — often in the forms of memes. Also when he is the proven source, I find he speaks a lot of nonsense. Things nobody would object to, but not at all presenting any solutions other than tautological ones. What he keeps saying is akin to "We should all be good, so we are not bad." Well, duh... He got 25 likes and one share, and I bet most of them are because he is uncritically adored by so many. I wonder, would all his fans answer no to his question in the thought bubble?
This legendary silver screen beauty is almost as popular as Dalai Lama. She got 23 likes from my Facebook friends. There are many photos of Marilyn Monroe where there is sadness behind her smile and her beauty seems torn. This is not the most obvious one, but I didn't want to be blunt about it. I had fun with the thing about the hair, since she was not a natural blonde. Her great talent from within was sometimes doing battle with her striking exterior.
Democracy has a tendency to fail as soon as government is questioned, which is when it is needed the most. Benjamin Franklin may have had a feeling that it would be true in spite of the Constitution proudly signed by the founding fathers of the USA. But how to guarantee democracy and human rights in a world where most of the power tends to be held by a few? Twelve of my Facebook friends liked this, and one of them made the comment: "Now you need bulletproof."
Here's another one of my favorites. A sad one, indeed. One of my Facebook friends commented: "Oh my, this makes you wanna cry." Many celebrated artists probably struggle with the same ambiguous feeling — they keep telling themselves that it's all worth it, but it is one hell of a struggle. Michael got twelve likes. He is still popular, in spite of all.
It's funny how the present keeps misunderstanding the future. World famous celebrities are forgotten in a few years, others emerge and become icons. Picasso was a legend in his lifetime, though not already when painting this portrait of Gertrude Stein. She, on the other hand, was an established figure at that time, but few know of her now and even fewer have read anything of her. She was the one coming up with "a rose is a rose is a rose." This image only got four Facebook likes. Maybe even Picasso is fading away? I hope not. The idea of the portrait becoming more famous than the one portrayed is not mine, but from the 1944 novel The Dwarf by Swedish writer Pär Lagerkvist, where a Renaissance king's portrait is painted by a brilliant artist, and the jester tells the king that his only place in history will be as the model of this painting.
I giggled for a quite a while when making this image. Both the "tsar" and "totally" amused me. It's not common that someone's face is recognizable already from childhood, but the eight Facebook friends who liked it surely got it. Three shared it and one friend commented with a pun: "If you put in enough energy, you can do it." Maybe the big problem with society is that its leaders are much too fond of leading and not that into serving.
More Mute MemeThe exhibition continues with more mute meme. Click the header to go there.
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both Swedish and English. I'm also an artist, an historian of ideas and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.