First of all, excuse the lame title of this blog, which is referring to the line out of Austin Powers; “But what does it all mean Basil?”, but I have of course replaced the word ‘mean’ with ‘meme’ for a bit of foreshadowing (how very clever of me). If you haven’t guessed by now, this blog post is about memes, and what they might mean for politics and democracy. Let me start by saying that memes are becoming increasingly popular and influential in social media and various platforms. The CIA has a database of memes for goodness’ sake! So is it really so ridiculous that memes are being used as propaganda?
Basically every public figure in the world uses Twitter and Facebook to build a connection with their following, and to appear more relatable and ‘hip’. So why would they not take advantage of this new but actually quite old concept, to garner support? However, are political memes actually abolishing any chance we have at having intelligent political conversation?
These are some of the more harmless political memes
Douglas Haddow asserts that political memes have always existed, however, “what’s novel here is an inversion of control – political memes are no longer rare flashes of uncensored personality or intensely manicured visual messages. They are now born from the swamps of the internet in real time, distributed from the bottom up” (Haddow, D 2016). What Haddow is saying here is that anyone with a Smartphone or a Laptop can create a meme, which can eventually reach mass audiences, through the sheer speed of mass replication, and a lack of gatekeepers.
Haddow goes on to discuss an example of a potentially campaign damaging meme; the #draftourdaughters meme. In May of 2016, Hilary Clinton voiced her support “for legislation that would require women to register for the draft. This was largely received as a rare instance a bipartisan support for a purely symbolic gesture, aimed at promoting gender equality in the military” (Haddow, D 2016). Several people took this to mean that Hilary wanted to force young girls into combat, and to the paranoid, it fed into the conspiracy theory that a world war is looming.
The aftermath was a number of widely shared fake campaign ads to promote the wild idea that Hilary wanted to send young women to their deaths in a war against Russia. Haddow quotes George Orwell when evaluating the connection between ideology and the proliferation of empty language:
Political language- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.
I think that having informed and intelligent political discussions are imperative to maintaining democracy and transparency.
Haddow, D 2016, ‘Meme warfare: how the power of mass replication has poisoned the US election’, The Guardian, viewed 4/4/17 Here