Dante’s Inferno Meets Meme Culture

Madison Word shares her experience with Dante’s Inferno by riffing with a popular meme image.

Like it or not, memes are a firm part of our culture. They can be offensive, problematic, overly-simplistic, derivative, and we could all go on with some not-so-nice adjectives. But they can also be incredibly witty, weirdly compelling and sometimes poignant, and they are most certainly quickly digestible and easy to share/adapt for other purposes. In other words, memes are representative of the best and the worst that the Internet has brought. Dr. Lara Kees, one of our fresh and fabulous faces on campus, decided to leverage all of the good she could out of the genre. By pairing the old with the new, she figured out an alternative assessment for her students that was simultaneously challenging and also just plain fun. Read on to learn more from Lara. Who knows . . . you too may find yourself adding a meme portion to your next test!

English 10 students read part of Dante’s Inferno, and Honors English 10 students read all of it. On the Inferno test, I included several commonly used memes as templates. Students could earn bonus points by creating a meme that expressed something specific from Dante’s Inferno. I didn’t expect the memes to be so successful, but the meme templates automatically suggest certain emotional situations and responses. Students easily identified the emotions called for, and they readily found those emotions’ analogs in the Inferno! Some students chose to represent their own reactions to parts of the Inferno, while others chose an emotional situation within the story of the Inferno itself. Either way, I think the memes speak to Dante’s genius in depicting aspects of human nature–and to our students’ creativity in melding past & present! 

Hailey Burns finds emotional compatibility between a cat meme and the author of the Inferno.
Dylan Bleck channels this dinosaur to explore the Inferno.
Jack Crawford tries out text summary by meme.
Patten Lane boldly takes on the character drama of the Inferno via meme.
Who says dog memes don’t belong in English class? Nico Buford waxes philosophical about the strange mismatch of time periods and religious expectations.
Anna Everly entitles her meme: “Dante starts to stray from the straight path.”
Bailey Bryan plays with photo and text meme manipulation to get his point across.
Sarah Belk Poulson makes a hard-hitting statement questioning the fairness in the moral and religious implications of the plot.
Catherine Zhou exhibits clear understanding of the meme genre with her simple “Dante.” in the second image.
Connor Dunnigan draws on this distinctive doggy’s facial expression for his own visceral reaction to Dantes’s Inferno.
Lily Hillhouse makes a similar point about the same striking part of the Inferno using a very different meme.
Jamie Lee asks a pointed question via meme.
Joy Dhar takes on this popular meme to show his own transaction with the text.
Anna Maria Martin illustrates Virgil’s sense of pleasure when Dante stops sympathizing with “sinners.”

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