Like the millennial generation, social media culture is young, not even twenty yet. Facebook came out in 2004, Reddit in 2005, Tumblr in 2007, and Instagram in 2010. We are slowly forming a new kind of social etiquette for this fairly new platform, for interactions and memes are like our generation’s political cartoons in a way, however they are so much more effective.
Memes circulate faster than any other form of information, and if you don’t think that memes are influential or have real-world effects, then just take a look at this past presidential election.
The 2016 presidential election can easily be defined as the first internet presidential race. Obama might be the first “internet president,” but this was the first presidential race that had such a high concentration of memes: Birdie Sanders, The Deplorables, Ted Cruz: Zodiac Killer, Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits, the Obama/Biden bromance (a.k.a. BROTUS), and nasty women were just some of the memes to come out of the 2016 election. This is also what happens when millennials become involved.
A bird landed on Bernie Sander’s podium while he was speaking and there were memes circulating before the day was over. It was so big that the following day the Bernie Sanders campaign issued its own poster featuring Bernie and the little bird with the word “Together” in the top left corner [here]. However, it was a well-known fact that Bernie Sanders held the highest popularity among young voters, enough so that SNL made more than one skit about that fact and Hillary Clinton trying to become more like him in an effort to gain more young voters.Screenshot from KnowYourMeme.com
However, if you want a really good example of the reach of memes, you need look no further than The Deplorables. The Deplorables are a group of Trump-supporting internet trolls that work on twitter and have said that they “memed him into presidency.” They are the self-proclaimed driving force behind the Trump campaign. In This American Life titled “The Revolution Starts at Noon”, Act One takes a look at the role and influence of The Deplorables and how meme culture played a hand in electing President Trump. “We directed the culture,” said Jay Boone. Through social media and memes, these internet trolls were able to influence the masses so much that they had their own ball on Inaguration night at The White House called the Deplora Ball.
And it is in that single quote that Jay Boone sums up exactly what I’ve been itching to get at this entire article. And it’s not just The Deplorables and their memes that have this power. It is all online trends and memes. Memes influence culture, which therein influences politics and the people and mainstream media.
In an article titled “Meme warfare: how the power of mass replication has poisoned the US election” published by The Guardian regarding memes in the 2016 election, Douglas Haddow calls this form of social influence “meme warfare” and that memes are “ruining democracy.” The article mostly references the early era of memes, the icanhazcheezburgers, pepes, and raptor memes. These are 2010 memes, before the culture had really gotten on its feet and the internet was mostly cat videos and there was no such thing as YouTube famous. Haddow argues that the political memes border on propaganda and are highly detrimental especially in regards to the election. He also references the rather snide and snarky memes circulated in support of Trump.Screenshot from Donald J. Trump on Twitter
Now as a millennial and a lover of memes, it is hard for me to condemn them but it is also hard for me to support them. I wrote this article to mostly sort out my own thoughts on the subject and it seems that society is moving in a direction that places entertainment value over quality content. I find it oddly horrifying that internet trolls would be having their own inaugural ball at The White House, rubbing shoulders with wealthy benefactors from the Trump campaign, because it shows just how far this society has come since 2008 when Obama was elected president. It paints an oddly dark picture for the future.
Cover image from public domain information on the Zodiac Killer police drawing from 1969 and Senator Ted Cruz google images