Say it Like you Meme it: The role of memes in politics

By Bella Spencer

Long gone are the days when you had to wait for your dog to grab the newspaper from the harassed postman in order to stay up to date with current affairs. We are a generation informed by memes starring your favourite doggo rather than columns of facts in black and white print.

With the general election approaching faster than your fibre optic internet and the state of society becoming increasingly fractured, never before has the immediacy, as well as the distribution, of news and opinions seemed so important. But while memes of Theresa May’s smug face paired with a comment about her running through wheat provides a momentary chuckle and a reflection of how detrimental people perceive her to be, how much does this disposable, ‘of the moment’ commentary actually impact the political landscape?

While I whole-heartedly support anyone who utilises their creativity and gusto to express their political views, I wonder if this is the kind of “slacktivism” that prevents our generation’s opinions being heard, or listened to, over and over again? Is it enough to share a picture of Nigel Farage with a pithy caption about the EU, or do we need to do more to make a difference?

Memes of a political nature are our generation’s equivalent of propaganda, albeit with brash messages rather than subliminal influences. However, while it was impossible to escape the propaganda plastered on billboards, cereal boxes and buses, memes appear on websites that you take the action to look at/like. Although my Facebook wall is full of Donald Trump’s hair blowing in the wind of a trombone, I have, intentionally or not, opted in for mockery of the political right. As a left leaner, my friends and liked pages are of a similar political nature to me, so it is unlikely that I will come across an image mocking Corbyn. Presumably the same goes for right wingers; they only see images that support their own beliefs. Our outlook on life is often reflected by our political persuasion, so can determine our friendships. This divide prevents your hilarious meme, supporting your candidate or revealing the opposition’s flaws, from reaching the necessary target – people who think differently to you. You are only preaching to the converted.

Similarly memes quite obviously carry a certain target audience. Perhaps I’ve just been lumped with particularly uncool parents and grandparents, but I’m yet to hear my older relatives discussing the hilarity of a ‘when you…’ meme. Our generation is intelligent and aware, and boy do we have opinions, but the older generation have not adjusted their hearing aids to listen, and often seem alienated by the way in which we communicate our views. Take Brexit for example; 75% of 18-24 year old voters opted to stay in Europe, while only 39% of 65+ voted to remain. Our medium of commentating on politics is not reaching the people who are influencing OUR future.

The ability of the British youth to spread humour on seriously dark and depressing prospects is a marvellous attribute but sadly, as technology appears to have developed at a faster rate than the general population, we still need old-fashioned print and protests to be heard. With an election that will determine the stability of our country on Thursday the importance of face-to-face discussions, rallies and print journalism has not been undermined by the birth of the meme. So, keep the torrent of memes of angry babies and salt bae flowing, but print off a copy for your right-wing neighbour and stick it under his windscreen wiper. We must make our opinions impossible to ignore.


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