Witches and Beatniks

Murder, jazz, and non-conformism

Black Sheep Boy — Book Review

I started reading Martin Pousson’s novel expecting a hilarious black comedy and a light read. It is neither. Black Sheep Boy is a harrowing story of survival and, as the best pieces of fiction often are, not an easy read.

Pousson’s elegant prose must be read slowly to be fully enjoyed. I wouldn’t recommend taking this book to the beach (as I did) but saving it for a gloomy day when you have nothing else on your agenda. It is dark. And sad. Prepare to be heartbroken. Painful events are never sweetened or padded with campy humor; merely told with gracious style that makes the unspeakable bearable. There’s some veiled humor, but nothing that will make you laugh out loud. Au contraire, with every page you will feel that your heart shrinks a little. One character’s statement that he had been voted “Most Likely to Suck Seed” in his senior year of high-school, will make you curl a lip, but probably shed a tear too, because of the pitiful circumstances in which he makes this comment.

For the most of the book, the main character has no name and neither do his parents or grandparents. Physical descriptions are scarce. I must say that I craved more concrete imagery, especially at the beginning, but overall, the use of metaphor throughout this book works superbly. Pousson’s intention was not to entertain his readers with colorful gay boy adventures, but to make them experience the tragedy of being an outcast, to make them inhabit the main character’s body as if it were a vessel navigating through the dark worlds of the Bayou and homosexual life, rather than an actual person. The protagonist does and sees, but until the very end, he hardly ever expresses how he feels or what he truly wants. We know that he wants to be “normal,” but we never really get to meet him. We simply accompany him, feeling partially numbed, partially frightened, and always inadequate.

An excellent read that reminds us that gay life is not always “gay” and that for many, it may never get better.

Black Sheep Boy

On Why Millennials Should Vote for Trump to be President (Satire)

I know, voting for Trump sounds like a very crazy idea. Trump is racist, misogynist, has no political experience, and is a total fraud. He will be a terrible president if not the very last, but bear with me as I expose my arguments. There is a strong and powerful reason why you want Trump to be president: Your ego.

First, what is the alternative? Eight more years of Obama-like progress with a Democrat as president? Let’s say that Hillary chooses Bernie to be her running mate and that they flip-flop on their second term, to keep everyone happy; no disgruntled people here, we’re talking about eight more years of democrats, whoever the candidate. Assuming that Clinton and Sanders are as good presidents as Obama has been, that would mean lowering unemployment, ending the gender income gap, and yada yadda yada, which is totally fine, don’t take me wrong, I do want good things to happen, and I’m assuming you do too, but… do you want to change the world or do you want the world to change? There’s a difference. That difference is you.

How old would you be after Hillary and Bernie step down? You will be eight years older. Chances are you may be settled by then, maybe have a child or two already and a full-time job, that Gosh, will be sucking most of your energy. A little pouch of a belly will have replaced your six-pack, if you had one. Then you’ll run into your best friend from college, that half-Jewish, half-Asian, sometimes bisexual girl from Political Science and she’ll say: “Remember when we wanted to change the world? LOL.” You’ll look at her from the side of your eye, with your chin resting on your left hand, and you’ll chuckle. Now she works for a health insurance provider. “The world changed us,” you’ll finally mumble. You’ll have some drinks, lots of laughs, then each will call their driverless car on their phones, go home to have dinner prepared by a replicator machine based on a Charlie Trotter’s menu and binge-watch a series on the 360 video… Is that really the life you want? To find out one day that your spouse is having an affair with the operating system and just roll your eyes about it? Needless to say, if Trump wins, your life would be totally different.

Remember how you felt the first time you watched the Hunger Games? Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, you must agree that Jennifer Lawrence looked absolutely and utterly fabulous in that red armor shooting arrows. Remember how happy you were when Harry Potter finally defeated Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows part II? You knew well that Harry would win, you knew that since book 1, there’s no way in the world Voldemort would be victorious; you read the Deathly Hallows twice, if not three times, still, if felt so good when you saw them fight and, despite all the deaths and all the destruction in Hogwarts, you saw Harry come out victorious. What about Captain America? Isn’t he swell?

Do this: close your eyes, put your right hand on your heart and ask yourself whether you too would like to be a hero. Do you want to? You do! Now you feel like grabbing a broom and pretending it’s a light saber. Well, If Hillary wins, that’s all your life will be, a (sad) pretension.

It all depends on what you understand for revolution, of course. If your definition of “revolution” is sharing political memes on your Facebook wall and signing online petitions until a new bill that will expand the rights of the oppressed is signed, well, good for you, stay with boring Hillary and grandpa Sanders. That to me is a revolution for sissies. Why? Because real revolutionaries fight. They fight tooth and nail. They drag themselves through mud, they live in the shadows, they run through debris, they fight murderous robots and bloodthirsty hounds and cling to helicopters to prevent the bad guys from escaping. Real heroes hack computers, steal the plans for interstellar weapons of mass destruction and sacrifice their lives, if necessary. Yes, heroes are willing to pay the ultimate price for liberty and justice.

For the real revolution to occur we need heroes. You have what it takes to be a hero, you know you do, you feel it on the hairs of your arms every time you hear the drums from the 20th Century Fox fanfare at the beginning of the Star Wars soundtrack. It’s in your bones. YOU ARE A HERO, you learned that from playing the Legend of Zelda and watching The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, you don’t need a stupid college degree that will be useless when the machines take all of our jobs in the near future—FUCK YOU GOOGLE—if only you could get your hands on one of those floating balls shooting lasers, you know you’d be a Jedi by now!

Sadly, for the revolution to occur we also need oppression. If the Berners are right and Hillary is a corrupt monster, as their memes claim, we may get some oppression with her as president. Maybe Wall Street will lead us to another recession; maybe some will lose their jobs and will end up living in their cars; maybe you’ll have to go back to your parent’s home, but, let’s be honest, even if she’s bad—and most probably she will be amazing—you know that not even in your wildest masturbatory dreams Hillary will cause a nuclear holocaust. She’s too nice, too smart, too diplomatic. Now, Trump? The hell he will. I saw a meme the other day saying that he’s planning to invade Scotland. It’s not an exaggeration, it could very well happen. Queen Elizabeth may say something silly about Melania and, next thing you know, boom, the Queen is fired. Trump meets with Madam Secretary of Defense, Sarah Palin, and after a few margaritas, they decide to press the red button and nuke those British wankers. The entire island, fuck the Welsh and the English too. Wouldn’t that be totally rad? Terrifying at first, because a lot of people will die, and I’ve never been to London, but a nuclear war will be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for all of your life to become a hero. You’ll watch the whole world fooled by Fox News stating that the Scottish had been hiding terrorists; even your parents and siblings will believe Trump’s lies, but you won’t. You won’t be able to stay calm and accept Trump dictatorship after you learn about the extermination camps for the Muslims and Mexicans.

What will you do? You’ll do what is fair, you’ll do what heroes do: you’ll join the underground resistance led by Lupita Gutierrez, a transgender born in Chihuahua that used to be a host in a cantina in Echo Park before Trump’s regime and now is the leader of the rebellion. You’ll bump heads at first, because you believe in absolute freedom for all, regardless of their creed, gender or color, and Lupita is a little racist; she doesn’t trust white people after having escaped a concentration camp set in a former Target where they cut off her chichis. You’ll have to prove yourself, maybe show her that you could add lots of Cholula to your food or sing Cielito Lindo without an accent, and eventually you’ll become one of her most trusted Generals. And when she dies, betrayed by a Salvadorian mole sick of being confused with a Mexican, you’ll take the lead of the revolutionary army and keep fighting the good war, the war for freedom and justice, so one day we can rebuild this great American nation.

Well, Lupita may end up getting her own series in Netflix and World War III postponed for God knows how many years if Hillary wins—probably until the next time we elect a Republican president. Believe me, you don’t want to fight a war on your thirties or forties. When you pass forty, all you want to do is to take off your pants and play candy Crush Saga on your phone until the Thai food you ordered over the phone arrives. You want to fight now, when you are still young, when you still believe in justice and change, and you still can bend down and tie your shoes without puffing. You need Trump.

Will it be horrible? Absolutely. War, starvation, displacement, and famine. But you’ll look AWESOME wearing your homemade armor, shooting arrows from your laser bow and kicking butt like in the Matrix, without getting bad hair or losing your sunglasses. Will many people die? Billions, probably, but don’t worry much, it’s the corrupt, the old and the fatties the ones who die first. And Parisians. LOL, haven’t you watched any movies? Paris always goes first, and last time I checked France is like FAR. Now, if you’re a member of a minority, to be totally honest, your chances of becoming the ultimate hero that defeats Trumpdemort are somewhat slim, because heroes are normally white, and not necessarily male, but having a penis helps to be invincible. If you’re Muslim you’re pretty much out of luck. If you’re Mexican, it’s a game of numbers, because we’re so many: you have fifty to ninety percent chances of dying in a Trump concentration camp, but if you escape, you’ll be wholeheartedly accepted in the rebellion and earn an officer rank just because you eat tamales. If you’re black or Asian I would recommend becoming the love interest of someone white with the potential to be a hero in order to guarantee survival.

I know all of this sounds kind of difficult and there’s a lot of work and pain involved, not to say ridiculously small chances of survival, but to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket. If you really, really, really believe in yourself like Katniss and Luke and the guy from the Maze Runner did, and refuse to accept any evidence that contradicts what you know deep in your heart is true, like Captain America did in his latest movie, you may end up with a huge monument in DC. That is, if Trump wins. If the Democrats win, well, your family and your friends will still love you. Maybe.

Think about it. What do you want your life to be? Do you want to be like your parents who fart in front of each other and the last time they went to a club was in 1999, or do you want to be like Luke Skywalker and live in a post apocalyptic world fighting for freedom? Change is up to you. Don’t waste your vote.


Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle

Buy it in Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Read the Kirkus Review


Sometimes I’m a little bit embarrassed about the amount of nonsense I post in this blog. Maybe Michelle Obama will feel tempted to follow me in Twitter, land here and oh, dear, be so utterly disappointed by the lack of intelligent life! I clutch my pearls at the mere thought…

One day I’ll clean this blog. Not today. It’s 6:22 PM and I haven’t gotten off my pajamas. Meanwhile, please read the following review and share it with all your loved ones.

(Click the link below)

Love, or The Witches of Windward Circle

Use of Engagement as an Approximation of Merit

Wondering what the publishing industry would think about my crazy idea: instead of asking an intern for coverage on a manuscript, scan her brain while she reads it and measure for boredom. The least boring manuscripts should get a pass.

Use of Engagement as an Approximation of Merit

Never before has it been easier to publish a book. Advances in technology and the affordances of the internet allow us to print on demand and reach readers in the remotest parts of the planet. For the same reasons, never before has it been more difficult to be a successful author. With so many books published every year, both in paper and electronically, and easy and immediate access to other media competing for potential readers’ attention, reaching the right audience—or any at all—has become increasingly difficult.

Authors published by traditional publishers have the best chance of achieving success. Yet, publishers and literary agents are drowned with so many queries that, oftentimes, the decision on whether to accept or reject a manuscript from the “slush pile” lies on an intern, who must ask herself not whether she enjoyed the reading of the manuscript in hand but whether it could sell. Many times, the answer depends more so on what this intern believes her boss and other people believe makes a book worth reading, that is, on injunctive and descriptive norms (see O’Keefe, 2015), than on her actual judgment of the manuscript. What could become a literary success is, thus, rejected for lacking any apparent commercial value; what lacks entertaining value is accepted because it is perceived as what others think it is what people want to read now.

Inspired by the Berns and Moore’s study that suggests that analyzing neural activity in the reward-related regions can predict the popularity of music among the general population better that self-reports of likability (Berns & Moore, 2012), we propose to give a heavier weight to the perceived level of engagement of a manuscript, as measured through neuromarketing tools such as fMRI, or other forms of neuroimaging, EEG or eye-tracking, than to self-reports alone when evaluating such manuscript’s merit and worthiness of publication. We believe that the measurement of subconscious processes while performing an activity can prove to be a better predictor of enjoyment than self-reports because the former are driven mainly by emotion, while the latter include subjective valuations of injunctive and descriptive norms and are subject to the framing effects of memory and self-censure (Berns & Moore, 2011).

Berns and Moore’s study used perceived likability as indicated by the activation of the orbitofrontal cortex and the ventral striatum as a predictor of whether a song would become a commercial success (Berns & Moore, 2012). However, reading a good manuscript could arouse not only positive but also negative affective responses, such as sadness, anger, fear, and even disgust, especially when identification with the characters occur (Oatley, 2002), and still be a good manuscript. Therefore, we prefer engagement as an approximation of merit over likability measured through indications of positive affect. Simply put, we will call a manuscript worth of being published if it’s highly engaging, regardless of the valence of the emotions aroused.

Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory predicts that task engagement results from satisfying the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Measuring whether these needs are satisfied while reading a text would require conscious and probably subjective judgment, however. Miller defines engagement as the “quantity and quality of mental resources directed at an object of thought” (Miller, 2015; p. 33) which makes the level of engagement a function of neural activity, easy to measure with EGG or neuroimaging. His definition does not consider motivation, however, making it incompatible with transportation, the phenomenon in which a reader loses herself into a story (Green & Brock, 2002). Thus, for our purposes, we’ll define engagement as the intrinsic desire to continue performing an activity until halted by boredom, and use increased brain activity and a negative valence of boredom as indicators of the level of engagement.

Boredom is an “aversive state that occurs when it is not possible to achieve an optimal level of arousal through engagement with the environment.” (Mathiak, Klasen, Zvyagintsev, Weber, & Mathiak, 2013). Bench and Lench define boredom as the internal urge to pursuit an alternative goal when the current situation is no longer emotionally stimulating (Bench & Lench, 2013). For Toohey (2011), boredom is an emotion related to the primary emotion of disgust, and just like disgust prevents us from getting too close to what could result in sickness, boredom prevents us from engaging in activities that bring no apparent benefit or could be toxic—such as reading an uninteresting book.

As humans, we have an innate thirst for acquiring knowledge, thirst that is heightened by the reward mechanisms of the brain. After satisfactorily reaching a goal, the release of high amounts of dopamine that subsequently occurs makes us want to repeat the actions that resulted in this extra release of the neurotransmitter (Willis, 2014). We’re hooked on pleasure, and when this comes at variable rather than predictable rates, our desire to be pleased only grows (Eyal, 2012). Thus, we waste hours swapping channels, hoping to find something worth watching on TV, or clicking links on Reddit, hoping to get a short fix of happiness. At the same time, we avoid complex cognitive tasks when the perceived reward to be attained, compared to the effort required, is none or little (Jabr, 2012). That is, we avoid not what will exhaust us, but what bores us. Since choice is driven by emotions, it is the deterioration of affect what leads to boredom, and boredom what makes us “disengage from current goal pursuits” (Willis, 2014; p. 461) and switch to more meaningful and rewarding activities. Valuation of what is rewarding and meaningful is, of course, an unconscious process ultimately vetted by conscious thinking (Ramsøy, 2015). Both processes rely on memory: Boredom tempts us to stop working and spend time on social media instead, but risk assessment, fear of punishment, or the promise of a delayed reward, makes us force ourselves to continue working. Thus, boredom is itself a function of one’s own memories, preferences, and skills, as well as our current mood and our inherent tendency to be bored (Toohey, 2011). Our suggestion to use boredom as an approximation to measure engagement is, therefore, under the assumption that readers’ competences and preferences will match the complexity of the texts to be evaluated, and that only readers that are neither prone to be bored nor too easily contented should be considered, conditions which can be revealed by having them take the Boredom Proneness Scale developed by Norman Sundberg (Toohey, 2011).

Boredom has a physiological effect that can be measured by studying brain activity and behavior. As a stressor, boredom prevents the amygdala to allow information perceived through the senses to reach the prefrontal cortex, because this information is subconsciously recognized as irrelevant or toxic, effectively preventing any understanding to be constructed into long-term memory. In a bored state, the prefrontal cortex loses communication with the rest of the brain, resulting in involuntary behavioral responses: from deep sighs, rolling eyes, droopy eyes, and mind wandering, to even self-mutilating (Willis, 2014).

Neuroimaging reveals that bored individuals show less activity in the prefrontal cortex and more in the lower brain, that controls behavior (Willis, 2014). Likewise, greater activation of the insula, related to disgust and avoidance responses, and lesser of the orbitofrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, related to approach behavior, can indicate boredom. On the other hand, increased hippocampal activity and a higher index of prefrontal asymmetry would indicate a higher level engagement (Mathiak et al., 2013; Ramsøy, 2015).

In the absence of neuroimaging, whose costs could be prohibitive because of the expensive equipment and high level of expertise required to make a proper analysis of the data, an EEG showing higher changes in signal amplitude can be an indication of increased mental activity and thus of a higher level of engagement. Self-pace reading, by measuring overall reading speed, and eye-tracking, by measuring fixation and reading patterns, can also indicate engagement. Engaged readers will slow down their reading to better comprehend a text, especially complicated texts, while disengaged readers will read at a higher speed due to lack of interest (Miller, 2015). Fixation too can reveal whether every word in a text lay within the reader’s foveal view for at least a minimum period of time, sufficient to interpret its meaning, and whether some re-reading occurred, for difficult or ambiguous words, or interesting sentences, both activities an indication of higher engagement, or whether entire words or paragraphs were skipped, an indication of boredom (Miller, 2015).

Other observed behavioral changes, such as changes in posture can reveal boredom: the deep sighs and rolling eyes mentioned above, hands on cheeks, elbows on a desk, or slouching, whereas a closer distance to the screen or the printed material combined with pupil dilation, and face gestures that reveal inner emotions, can indicate engagement. Changes in respiration and pulse, too, can indicate whether the text arouses an emotional response.

Whether extrapolating the results of neural analyses from individuals to the general population could in fact predict popularity hasn’t been fully demonstrated, but studies like the one from Berns and Moore (2012) suggest a significant correlation of brain activity with likability, which, expanded to engagement, could be a better form to judge a manuscript than beliefs based on injunctive and descriptive norms and with no actual data to support them. More experiments are required, but it is not far fetched to recommend listening to instinct, especially when it is other’s instincts what one tries to predict. Rather than discounting neural analyses that do not always match, we should study under which conditions they do and bet on cultural universals rather than potentially ephemeral trends. In the long run, investing in neuroscience could be the most cost effective decision a publisher, or any music or film producer, for that matter, could do.


Bench, S. W., & Lench, H. C. (2013) On the function of Boredom. Behavioral Sciences, 3(3), 459-472. Doi: 10.3390/bs3030459

Berns, G. S., & Moore, S. E. (2012). A neural predictor of cultural popularity. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(1), 154-160. Doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.05.001

Eyal, N. (2012). Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from

Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2002). In the Mind’s Eye: Transportation-Imagery Model of Narrative Persuasion, in M. C. Green, J. J. Strange & T. C. Brock (Eds.), in Narrative Impact: social and cognitive foundations (pp. 315-342). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Jabr, F. (2012). Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? Retrieved January 28, 2016, from

Mathiak, K. A., Klasen, M., Zvyagintsev, M., Weber, R., & Mathiak, K. (2013). Neural networks underlying affective states in a multimodal virtual environment: Contributions to boredom. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Front. Hum. Neurosci., 7. Doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00820

Miller, B. W. (2015). Using Reading Times and Eye-Movements to Measure Cognitive Engagement. Educational Psychologist, 50(1), 31-42. Doi: 10.1080/00461520.2015.1004068

Oatley, K. (2002). Emotions and the story worlds of fiction. In Green, M. C., Strange, J. J., & Brock, T. C. (Eds.) Narrative impact: social and cognitive foundations (pp. 39-69). Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

O’Keefe, Daniel J. (2015-02-18). Persuasion: theory and research. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Ramsøy, T. (2014). Introduction to Neuromarketing & consumer neuroscience. Neurons Inc ApS. Kindle Edition.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. In Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67 (2000) doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020, available online at

Toohey, P. (2011). Boredom: A lively history. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Willis, J. (2014). Neuroscience Reveals That Boredom Hurts. Phi Delta Kappan, 95 (8), 28-32. Doi: 10.1177/003172171409500807.

A most Wonderful Review from an Italian Academic


I just got this excellent review from Pantalea Mazzitello, an academic from the University of Parma, author of Il Bacio Spudorato a brief history of the osculum infame, and an expert in literature from the middle ages. If you read it with an Italian accent you’ll enjoy it best!


Love, or the witches of Windward Circle,

an American evil and humor tale

The confessions of a witch on her deathbed slowly trigger a whirlwind of events, whose acceleration will overwhelm the characters dwelling in the Windward Circle. The witch’s two eldest daughters are beautiful yet monstrous and will make the third youngest daughter’s life, the horrid but human protagonist of the novel, a true living hell. However, the protagonist has no name and no voice and not even Hell wants to host her before Satan. After being thrown out of Netherworld, the apprentice will try to conquer youth and beauty while striving for redemption through spells, potions, demoniac familiars, kidnappings and brutal murders. Nobody is really what it seems and every character may conceal centennial vampires, penitent werewolves or disguised duck paws.

The story abounds with precise details, which collect elements from the great history of witches’ persecutions, and sometimes plays itself the role of a handbook for wannabe witches. No detail is left out while describing the gathering ritual of witches, i.e. the Sabbath, including the Osculum infame, a symbol of homage and loyalty to the Lord of Darkness, and the revolution of the traditional Mass rites. The reader will unexpectedly brush up on the history of witchcraft and will discover its most characteristic features, obscene details and the foundations of apostasy.

Allende’s work is both a novel and a theatre play: the characters seem to enter and exit the pages while performing the role they were given, against the background of a narration belonging to the twentieth century only for its setting, but which reveals itself as a representation of the most contemporary social facets, thus winking at today’s readers.

It’s horror, it’s grotesque, it’s tragicomic: the early twentieth century in Venice, California, has never been so dark.


Pantalea Mazzitello

(University of Parma)


Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle

Buy it in Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Read the Kirkus Review

Chapter 3 Video

I made a short video.

Only 9 minutes.

I say redding instead of reading.

Kindle edition at only $3.99

Haven’t bought Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle yet?  Are you gonna miss all the hot and steamy descriptions of hairy and sexy characters inspired by Terry McFadden throughout the book? Now you have no excuse! My publisher dropped the price of the Kindle to only $3.99 for the next two weeks to celebrate that I will be at the LA Times Festival of Books!

SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016

Fiction: A Touch of Modern Horror
(Conversation 2113)

Moderator: Leslie S. Klinger
Carlos AllendeBrian EvensonLisa Morton Paul Tremblay

That’s right, you get to read ALL about hot and sexy Harris, the werewolf (he looks like Terry). Hot and tragic Russell, the beatnik (he looks like Terry but with a beard and lighter hair), and hot and steamy Detective Parson (salt and pepper Terry, angeleno edition). Only $3.99 for a limited time!

Prefer paper? Then come and see me at USC, April 10 and get a signed copy. Terry will be there too!


Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle

Buy it in Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Read the Kirkus Review

Watch the trailer!


Chapter 12 Teaser

Why, I got inspired and decided to make a new teaser from Chapter 12. Don’t judge it too harshly, I put it op in like ten minutes.


Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle

Buy it in Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Read the Kirkus Review

Changing the World One Meme at a Time


If a friend asked you to photocopy the photo of a man someone told her is a murderer and then distribute it among all your friends and acquaintances with the specific purpose of ruining that man’s reputation, you probably wouldn’t say yes, would you? Even if your friend offered to release you of most of the burden by paying for the photocopies and distributing them herself using your contact list, the fear of committing slander would prevent you from spreading what may not be but a malicious rumor. And yet, we spread unconfirmed claims among the members of our social network all the time, whenever we share a meme without confirming first whether the information it contains is correct: Roma stealing babies, corrupt politicians, presumed rapists and pedophiles of a certain ethnicity, selfish celebrities. We call attention on reprehensible attitudes basing our judgment not on concrete evidence and logical arguments, but in one evocative image and a few stirring words.

The present paper attempts to explain what makes us agree with the content of a meme and persuades us to share it in the absence of strong evidence to justify its claims.

An internet meme is an image, usually accompanied by text, that is copied and spread rapidly through the internet (Oxford Dictionary). Memes tend to be humorous. Some are innocuous like the “I has feet” lizard (Rahimi, Pinterest), but some are inflammatory, like this one from the British National Party (BNP) implying that the refugees taken by Germany are a threat to the UK (BNP Facebook post, 2015).

According to the Reasoned Action Theory (RAT), volitional behavior, or intention, is a function of four determinants: “one’s attitude toward the behavior in question, one’s injunctive norm, one’s descriptive norm, and perceived behavioral control” (O’Keefe, 2015; p. 99). Based on this model we can express a meme’s power to persuade viewers about the veracity of its content and worthiness to be shared as a function of the viewers’ ability to both understand its message and share it (the perceived behavioral control in the RAT model); the viewers’ attitude towards the subject portrayed within the message, and the viewers’ perceived norms, i.e. the public’s opinion.

Since the viewers’ ability to understand a meme and the perceived capability to share it are conditions sine qua non to change intention, we explain their effect first.

We have a natural need for cognition (O’Keefe, 2015). That’s why we spend hours at a time following the thoughts of strangers in Twitter and browsing our friends’ posts in Facebook. Yet “we have very little attentional capacity,” (Ware, 2010; Kindle Location 192) and tend to avoid high elaboration, in order to save time and energy (Ware, 2010), especially when the matter has little relevance to us, as the elaboration likelihood model predicts (O’Keefe, 2015). Now, because most memes consist of only one image and one or two lines of text, they require a minuscule effort to process. We may not be willing to invest our time reading or listening to arguments that attempt to convince us that Obama is a terrible president, especially when we think he’s not, but reading a meme with a similar argument not only is easy but almost unavoidable when it appears in our news feed. Reading a meme is a bottom-up process in the sense that we get tuned to interpret it (Ramsøy, 2014). Avoiding it requires a conscious effort. Its distinct image pops out “because of automatic mechanisms operating prior to the action of attention” (Ware, 2010; Kindle Locations 680-681) resulting from the parallel processing within the visual areas of the brain, leading us next to read the accompanying text, then to decide whether we agree or not with its message, and if we do, whether to share it or not. Because of the affordances of social media (see Ellison, Steinfeld, Lampe & Vitak, 2011), the perceived capability to share is almost a given: it takes one click[1].

Seeing a meme is also a top-down process, though, in the sense that we are drawn to read memes based on our previous experience with other memes: many are just fun to read and it is the promise to have a good laugh that makes us pay attention.

Simplicity is not enough, however, for a meme to successfully convey its message and persuade us to spread it. The concepts implied must be understood, and because memes are by definition, very brief, this understanding depends heavily on our semantic memory, our “general knowledge about the world, concepts, language, and so on” (Eysenck & Keane 2010; p. 255). A Scumbag Steve meme (See Samjowen, 2011) brings to mind a cascade of semantic concepts: millennials, men that wear jewelry, fur, and designer clothes; the naiveté implied by rosy cheeks and a slightly opened mouth, etc. Separate, all these concepts have different meanings. Brought together they imply arrogance, stupidity, self-centeredness, and conceit. Memes combine narratives and rhetoric: They use emotion and the cultural heritage of the audience as persuasive tools (Weida & Stolley, 2013). An evocative image has the power to transport us, if only for a fraction of a second, especially when we’re bored and looking to be entertained (Green & Brock, 2000) as it is often the case while using social media, and transportation can lead to a change of beliefs (Green & Brock. 2002).

Which bring us to the next determinant, attitude. Once the message is interpreted, viewers’ decide whether they agree with it. Memes do not contain strong arguments. The emotions aroused are the evidence that support their claims. While agreement with a meme’s message can be affected by transportation, mostly it depends on the viewer’s previous attitude towards the subject. According to the summative model of attitude, attitude is a function of the strength with which an individual holds a series of beliefs about a subject and his evaluation of these beliefs (O’Keefe, 2015). A meme that calls to punish presumed rapists and pedophiles, like this one (BNP Facebook post, 2014) is so blatantly racist that it may cause reasonable doubt about its veracity, but at first glance, due to transportation and in the absence of deep elaboration, the decision on whether to agree to it will depend on whether the viewer assigns a heavier weight to his rejection of rape or the need to be politically correct, since the ultimate message is one of discrimination.

Using a simpler example, a person with a positive attitude towards President Obama will most likely disagree with a meme that shows Robert Downey Jr. rolling his eyes and the accompanying text “my face, every time Obama starts talking” ( and probably will not share it, unless intended as a joke, or to raise awareness on the matter. Now, what if this same person, let’s call her Claudia, has a somewhat neutral attitude towards Obama but a positive attitude towards the actor, and the actor’s opinion weighs more in her decision than any beliefs she may hold about the President? Claudia may conclude that if Robert Downey Jr. feels that way about President Obama’s talking, Obama is probably a bore, and she may decide to share the meme. In this case, an injunctive norm, the belief that Robert Downey Jr. dislikes Obama, together with transportation, have a persuasive effect on Claudia’s decision. Granted, her belief is assumed as true due solely to heuristics: Claudia does not know the actor, but it’s in a meme, and in her experience, memes tend to contain the truth, so that must be the actor’s opinion.

How could she arrive at that conclusion? Facebook shows us first the posts from those who we explicitly mark as “show first,” and from those with whom we interact the most (Bereznak, 2014). Because we tend to connect in social media with those that are akin to us (Johnson, Zhang, Bichard, & Seltzer, 2011), the memes we get to see in our news feed come, most likely, from individuals that share our attitudes. The weight we assign to our closest friends’ opinions acts then as an injunctive norm, impelling us to agree with what they share. Likewise, the fact that a meme or a series of memes expressing similar concepts seem to be everywhere, acts as a descriptive norm. In other words, consensus has a weight in the decision whether to accept the content of a meme as true.

In conclusion, the decision whether to share or not a meme, relies on whether we agree with its content or, at least, find it relevant enough to be shared. To persuade a viewer of the veracity of their content and worthiness to be shared, memes rely on the viewers’ ability to understand their message, which is a function of the viewers’ semantic memory, previous attitudes, emotions aroused by inducing transportation, as well as other heuristics such as consensus and credibility, and internet and social media affordances, that make them incredibly easy to spread.



  • Bereznak, A. (2014, June 30). How Does Facebook Decide What Shows Up in Your News Feed, Anyway? Retrieved February 18, 2016, from
  • British National Party. (2015, September 13). Let’s get Britain Out of the EU! (Facebook Post). Retrieved February 18, 2016, from
  • British National Party. (2014, September 10). More than 1,400 young British girls. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from
  • Ellison, N., Lampe, C., Steinfeld, C., & Vitak, J. (2011). With a Little Help From My Friends: How Social Network Sites Affect Social Capital Processes. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.
  • Eysenck, M., & Keane, M. (2010). In Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook (6th ed.). Hove, Eng.: Psychology Press.
  • Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 701-721.
  • Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2002). In the Mind’s Eye: Transportation-Imagery Model of Narrative Persuasion. In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange & T. C. Brock (Eds.), Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations(pp. 315-342). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Johnson, T., Zhang, W., Bichard, S., & Seltzer, T. (2011). United We Stand? Online Social Network Sites and Civic Engagement. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.
  • net. (n.d.). My face every time Obama starts talking. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from
  • O’Keefe, D. (2015). Persuasion: theory and research. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
  • Rahimi, S. (sharer). Animal cuteness. In Pinterest website. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from
  • Ramsøy, T. (2014). Introduction to neuromarketing & consumer neuroscience. Neurons Inc ApS. Kindle Edition.
  • (2011). Scumbag Steve. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from
  • Stevenson, A., & Lindberg, C. A. (2010). New Oxford American dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Apple Widget
  • Ware, C (2010). Visual thinking: for design (Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies). Elsevier Science. Kindle Edition.
  • Weida, S., & Stolley, K. (2013, March 1). Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

[1] We assume here that spreadability results from a conscious decision to share content, yet social media users actually spread content every time they find it relevant enough to interact with it: posting a comment or liking a post, makes it spread through their social network.

Blog at

Up ↑