chapter  11
Contagion Images
Faciality, Viral Affect and the Logic of the Grab on Tumblr
WithElena Pilipets
Pages 20

This chapter is a theoretical and methodological exploration of viral images and memes revolving around Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision victory on Tumblr in May 2014. It derives from the observation that today’s visual social media practices shape and are shaped within the circulatory dynamics of affective contagion that digital popular culture generates on a daily basis. Facilitating the distribution of content within and across a variety of social media platforms, affective contagion can be understood as the main driving force behind two interrelated activities: the viral spread of images from context to context and the memetic practices of appropriation through which media users transform images and forward them around. By exploring visual and textual material using digitally mediated methods of data extraction and analysis, I highlight four multimodal scenarios of sharing, liking and tagging online visual content in the context of public (social) media events. These scenarios, in which contagion images operate as platformed, communicative objects of circulation, include (1) photographic remediation, (2) mundane imitation, (3) memetic commentary and (4) memetic play. Focusing on the interplay between the cultural relevance of Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision event and the social medium of Tumblr, I provide a thick mediated description of what contagion images do as they spread, including a methodological discussion of the ethical and copyright challenges they entail for analysing dynamic media environments. Concepts of affect, virality and networked social life of visual content will be used to emphasise that the capacity of digital images to circulate and transform requires a more focused discussion of the value they acquire through mixed forms of social, cultural and technological engagement.