How a USM professor became an Internet meme

This photo and quote of philosophy professor Jason Read became widely viewed after it was posted on the news aggregator Reddit, and the blog of &quotStar Trek" actor Wil Wheaton.
Reddit
This photo and quote of philosophy professor Jason Read became widely viewed after it was posted on the news aggregator Reddit, and the blog of "Star Trek" actor Wil Wheaton.

Posted on January 22, 2012 in News
By Dylan Martin

Two weeks ago, a familiar face from the University of Southern Maine Philosophy Department became something of an Internet star, appearing on the popular news aggregation site Reddit and the blog of Wil Wheaton, an actor best known for his roles on “The Big Bang Theory” and as Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“The whole thing caught me off guard,” professor Jason Read said. “It’s interesting to see how quickly something can take off.”

What brought Read to Internet fame was a photo of him with a quote in which he challenged the description of poor people as parasites, instead criticizing the economic “one percent,” the target of many in the Occupy Wall Street slogan.

“People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.”

Although Read has delivered lectures and written an essay about Occupy Wall Street, the source of this particular quote may come as a surprise: from a Facebook status update.

Read said he posted the status update on Dec. 29 as something he found “mildly amusing” and that he wouldn’t typically use that kind of discourse for his lectures. By Jan. 8, a friend of Read lifted the quote and superimposed it onto a photo of him, posting it to his own profile and the Occupy Maine Facebook page.

The image was soon posted to Reddit on Jan. 9 and received 5,430 “upvotes” by the website’s members. The image’s hosting site, imgur, has since recorded 152,272 views as of Jan. 21.  Shortly after the image’s appearance on Reddit, Wil Wheaton posted it to his blog on Tumblr, leading thousands of people to share it on their own blog. As a result of his newfound popularity on the Web, Read said he has since received multiple friend requests from strangers.

The proper term for this phenomenon is an “Internet meme,” a term used to describe a concept that sweeps through the World Wide Web with popularity and swiftness. Popular examples of Internet memes include singer Rebecca Black’s music video for “Friday” and the dramatic chipmunk video, which originated from a Japanese game show.

Hundreds of impassioned Reddit users have since left comments on the image’s submission page. And while some members cheered the sentiment, others debated the issues of economic inequality and the exact nature of a “successful parasite.”

“Mr. Read clearly needs a few lessons in biology,” said one member. “For a parasite (or any other organism for that matter) to be deemed successful, it simply has to do only one thing: survive.”

To clarify, Read said the main point of his statement was that “if people are concerned about those making money without work, then they should look at the top 1 percent.”

On the USM Philosophy Department’s Facebook page, one person was inspired by Read’s words and made a plea to the professor:

“Please come to Ireland, sweet Jebus, we need you, Jason.”