While I was fascinated by everything in the essay, it failed to convince me that jokes and memes are as valuable as they claim. I learned how a joke’s “open-source” nature can spread information and sentiment quickly and effectively. I’d never thought about memes in this way, and it makes so much sense. They are powerful communication tools. But I still struggle to see how, in a highly divided population, they can do anything but widen the chasm between people. That might be power, but what good is it?
Metahaven called a meme’s nonsensical response a “dadaist troll mentality.” By responding outside of the framework of the question, they reject the framework itself. Many of the examples given involved populations rejecting a singular antagonist with the goal of “disrupting their response and filling their hearts with panic.” This makes perfect sense to me when we are talking about actual singular antagonists. But what about the meme-filled 2016 election context? Candidates in any party might be a symbol we can poke a stick at, but who are they really but (attempts at) representation of a much larger population? Are in-jokes about Hillary or Trump going to change the minds of an entire portion of the country, or are they just going to unite one group in laughter and the other in *rolls eyes*? Does it matter that jokes hurt Trump, the individual, if the sentiment that he represents exists in the country with or without him?
I struggle to see the back and forth trade of jokes and memes as anything but divisive in a bad way. I am especially distressed by the essay’s support of nonsense response as a method of squashing the possibility for discussion, which is what communication in any context is about. Yes, I get that if one wants to simply reject the “system,” this is an effective way to communicate that. Great, you’ve rejected the system— But the people that are part of that system still exist, they live next door, and there are a whole lot of them. And now you’ve made them the butt of your jokes, and they hate you as much as you hate them. I know that I tend towards the moderate and careful rather than the radical and bold, but I truly do not see how this can be justified.
I think this except from a McSweeny’s (satire) piece illustrates the illusion of effective rebellion well:
I tweet my ‘Jabba the Trump’ meme for the world to see. The knife of satire twists deep. In a moment, I am flooded by dozens of retweets, ranging from friends who share my political opinions to strangers on the internet who also share my political opinions—the chorus of America itself. My tweet lights the spark, and the fires of rebellion burn bright…
The phone rings. It is my father, a lifelong Conservative who lost his career in the 2008 Recession and never truly recovered. Clearly, he has been crying.
Jeff, I saw your meme. I understand now. Trump has preyed upon and exploited my economic anxieties to the benefit of only himself and the billionaire class. He degrades us for his own sick amusement — very much like Jabba the Hutt. Your meme spoke to me. Your meme saved me. Thank you, son. I love —”
I hang up on my father, for I am receiving another call — from the White House.
I thought the essay was incredibly interesting and made very good points about the power of jokes and memes. I’ve never had so much respect for a Lolcat… However, at least in our immediate climate, if jokes destroy empathic communication and they aren’t changing anyone’s minds, really, where’s the value beyond ego entertainment?