Reading Response 2

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? states that comedy is one of the most potent weapons available to the public in today’s society. “Jokes are low budget. They are among the cheapest goods we all have access to; they don’t cost anything, and they work. They are austerity-proof. Jokes, like laughs, are contagious, even if their intention is deadly serious”. Today’s world runs on electronics, the web, and social media. It is where millennials choose to get their news, where everyone decides to share their opinions, and one of the most influential platforms that have divided generations today. I believe jokes have become a big part of society because they have become an art form of self-expression. Everyone can hide behind a screen, but once you share a meme, it has the potential to go viral and reach millions worldwide. Jokes have become a dominant weapon because the cost and social status just don’t matter.

I believe jokes have the ability to provide authority to those who hide behind a screen because it’s easier to take a stand anonymously than face to face. Jokes have changed the way we perceive politics they have the influence to change views and outcomes from the public when it comes to current issues. Robust subjects can seem simple and innocent, but the authenticity says otherwise. Since many jokes and political cartoons are written by “anonymous” it makes it hard to believe its credibility. The word anonymous has become “a geopolitical force of influence”, and not in a positive technique.

For example, this meme about Hillary Clinton it just separates our political parties even further which only divides our nation even more. Memes can be confident and funny and also sometimes make a big issue seem simple but at the same time memes can be disruptive and a false way of communication. Lately, a lot of memes, in my opinion, have been just plain disrespectful towards our president. All the jokes and stupidity that happens behind a screen isn’t helping anyone nowadays. I believe jokes cannot bring down a government, but people are acting without knowing the facts can cause a significant impact on any country.

Reading Response 2 / Amanda Denhart

Metahaven’s Can Jokes Bring Down Governments presents not-so-surprising outlook on the power of a joke. Simply put, a child learns early on that jokes are but thoughtfully crafted words, which create a point—be it positive or negative. Some of the earliest personal struggles we go through as humans, are due to the repercussions of a ‘joke’. Therefore when the question is posed: Can jokes bring down governments? The answer is, without question, yes. Frequently, it is in the absence of respect, that jokes, memes, and satire lie.

According to Metahaven, “Jokes, in the past, were considered for what they really are: incredibly dangerous political weapons.” Historically, the political joke originated from the court’s jester, who was employed by the king to say whatever he wanted. As time passes, the formal “jester” has transformed to and everyday “Jokester” which gives each person the power to make an impact using words. This transition has only been amplified by the increases in technology and the transformation of traditional design. There has been a dramatic decline in the emphasis on political cartoons and more emphasis on viral “memes” and trending tweets. Memes have always been in existence but the “Specific media pathways these memes must travel and the culture with which they must connect” (Boyd) changes over time, according to Andrew Boyd, twenty-five-year veteran of creative campaigns for social change. He continues: “A vital movement requires a hot and happening meme.” Boyd goes on to compare the Declaration of Independence and Internet Memes as similar ways to influence government and social change. Read more about his analysis click here.

In parallel, Metahaven states that a meme serves as a “‘cultural gene’ … Memes are units of culture and behaviour, which survive and spread via imitation and adaptation” (Metahaven). By definition, a meme sounds eerily similar to a rumor—which draws an unsurprising connection between a joke’s ability to bring down an individual person and a joke’s ability to evoke a change in a government. Commentary and opinions spread quickly be it positive or negative, when there are many “jokesters” and no true “jesters”.

Reading Response 2 / Julia Bova

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments begins to talk about how jokes have become a more and more relevant way of reaching an audience. The reading shows that “Jokes are an active, living and mobile form of disobedience”, something that anyone is able to understand, respond to, share, or even make themselves. They are something that anyone can participate in and relate to – from the past, present and future. Joke are something that have surrounded political topics and social issues for decades – beginning with simple political political cartoons in newspapers – to memes and jokes being the center of news broadcasts today.

The reading states that “The joke is the highest form of power. Activists have the action and they live the life. Theorists have the words and they know their stuff But the joke unites both perspectives. Jokes, when politically effective, perform what everybody knew but couldn’t say”. Although jokes have been a continuing form of propaganda, they’ve become more of a ‘pot-stirrer’ today, getting conversation started about topics because they were brought to the attention of people. These are things that bring out the fire and emotions of people today, where they feel as if anything going against their views is directly attacking them. “The future of cartoons and perhaps the most power catalyst for their evolution is the world wide web”. The internet has changed how jokes and cartoons travel – making it cheaper and easier to reach a wide audience and go viral, but also hinders how one can understand or experience it – leaving each individual to assume the intention. This is how social media and the internet changes the view of so many things because of each individual changing the topic or idea to become ‘for’ or ‘against’ themselves or others.

Where as the beginning of political cartoons were about getting ideas and concepts to people – raising awareness or knowledge about a subject – these were things that were truly used as pieces themselves, not necessarily as a self starter for a topic even larger than yourself. There are iconic cartoons from the past that are still remembered today, like Ben Franklin’s ‘Join or Die’ – but the quick and understanding nature that encompasses the topic is what makes it so memorable – not the literal laughing matter.

Cartoons and jokes have made topics and opinions accessible to anyone – regardless of your education or knowledge on a subject, these things can be ‘dumbed down’ and understood by most people.  This makes these topics attainable by anyone – to be understood in whichever way – and be turned into things that they are not. This is where the true conflict arrises and where these jokes can become actually concerning for the state of political or social environments.

Today, memes and imitation become even more of a laughing matter than jokes themselves. These things can make subjects more attainable in a more positive way – where people can feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, because it is a more lighthearted statement and make people feel like they are more personally connected to a topic, regardless of if they actually are involved.– History of Political Cartoons and their evolution

Reading Response No.2 | Samantha Wells

To briefly summarize the reading, humor, particularly memes has an effect of culture, and as Andrew Breitbart says “politics is downstream from culture.” (As a brief aside, Andrew Breitbart is was the founder of Breitbart news, but passed away prior to the site’s now infamous reputation as being a Trump-supporting platform that occasionally panders to the alt-right. The alt-right is a group that tries to associate themselves with right-wing political thought, but really does not conform to the individual freedom, small government, and free market ideals of the right, but rather suggests that the culture of the “west” belongs to the white race and that to protect that culture there must be a white ethno-state. Most, if not indeed ALL right wing thinkers vehemently object to this racist assertion that ideas can belong to a skin color). I have previously noticed that the discussion of memes in politics often leads to a discussion of the alt-right and their active online presence. For an explanation of the this kind of internet culture check out this video by political commentator Roaming Millennial ( In this video, Millennial explains some of the lingo and language used by internet trolls and alt-right meme makers.

This discussion obviously tends to be touchy and lead to a discussion of the 2016 presidential election, and, while culture does influence politics, the widespread fear of a large alt-right base tends to prove ill-founded. Memes may fight the culture war, but so far, we tend to see that these deep internet cultures are home to small numbers of extremes. There are many factors other than memes that influence culture, such as movies, books, comedy, academia, and art. All of these sphere have influence, and arguable more than that of memes.

Memes can be influential, but are difficult to pin down as a category. Even the definition of the word varies. Some people think only of a very specific image with text over it kind of set up. Others are wider, like the idea of John Cena bursting into the middle of a video. There is also the joke format that can be adapted into different versions on different themes that are funny to individual groups of people. Given the wide-ranging definition of “meme,” it is hard to say exactly how much impact they can have, or have had in the past.

Altogether, memes are still so new, it’s hard to judge how they will impact the future of culture.


Reading No. 2 | Calista Bohling

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments begins to analyze the power and relevance that jokes may play within a society. Metahaven argues that these jokes are “incredibly dangerous political weapons,” and that “when politically effective, perform what everybody knew but couldn’t say.” And of course, we have seen the truth in these words in how internet memes and trolls played a large part in the 2016 election.

It was no secret that many people were dissatisfied with the choices in the last presidential election. Metahaven said it himself: “Memes and lulz emerge in an age of disenchantment with political institutions.” The entirety of the 2016 election was one huge, laughable meme on all sides. No party was spared in the months leading up to the vote, as each candidate had their own share of jokes and memes that portrayed them in one way or another. I thought this concept was interesting as well, the idea that memes don’t necessarily take a side, that “memes ignore that a sender’s identity would matter at all, taking no personal account for any position.” Anyone is fair game on the internet. If you think about it, it is quite incredible how memes are able to influence our society so much. An example that always stood out to me is how those SNL skits really got under Trump’s skin, and he even tweeted his frustration about Alec Baldwin multiple times: This does go to show that jokes are able to grab someone’s attention, and they are a useful tool to pointing out issues within our society.

Race and debt: two things that people don’t like to talk about. Add politics to this as well. It is a shame that in today’s political climate, many people don’t want to have a civil conversation about these topics. Many people would simply rather not talk politics, in fear of stirring up conflict, or start conflict purposely without any actual intention of listening to the other side. Both sides are guilty in demonizing the other in some way. A part of me can’t help but think about the roles these jokes and memes have played in also dividing people on these topics, and if there is a way that jokes will be able to unite people more in the future. We have seen that jokes are an incredible weapon in the political climate, but is there a way in which they can be more useful? I was doubtful when Metahaven compared these jokers to designers, but perhaps in some odd, twisted way he is right. These jokes, they connect with people much like designers also try and connect to the world around them. It was a very interesting perspective, and perhaps designers can take a few notes from these guys.

I have to say, those Obama & Biden bromance memes get me every time.

Reading 2 / Taylor Frank

For the reading assignment, Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? Honestly, I wasn’t really shocked, because during my high school government class my teacher loved sharing old cartoons that were geared towards political humor. I was shocked that people then could make provocative jokes so publicly. Looking at it now, I notice more of the power that it holds. Now looking at memes today as a tool for political view? I see it about everywhere, but I don’t know if I see it as a strong tool to persuade someone entirely.

One quote that I saw stuck out to me, “Responding to a sensical question with a meaningless answer is an effective tool to negate the politics of the frame in which the question was posed; and politics has become so dispiriting and tiring that it inspires a dadaist troll mentality.” I thought this statement was rather interesting, because I feel many people can relate to this when it comes to politics. As I am sure people feel the same, which results in taking that exhaustion and turning into a joke that channels their views. But now the easiest way to communicate with people is the Internet, thus leading to the rise of political memes. To the point there is a meme for about anything, or you can just as easily make it yourself.

With that in mind, memes being so easily obtained and created, about any opinion can be made and shared. Which can lead to rather interesting things you come across that can be sensible humor to just about as outrageous as you can think of. The amount of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hilary Clinton memes I have seen over the past 2 years almost is a little much. That’s why I don’t know if I see memes as powerful as years before with political cartoons. Reason I am saying this is because who made this meme? It could be 11-year-old boy who wanted attention on their twitter? Or someone who wanted to make a change in the political game? It could be either, but the resource I feel is a lot more important than just seeing a meme on twitter scrolling through. As well as thinking how many people outside of the millennial generation use memes as a way to express their opinions? That is also what is gearing me to thinking that memes are not as strong of a propaganda tool as political cartoonists back in the day.

For example, one that I know that you have probably have seen is the work of William Hogarth’s “Gin Lane.” It was my teacher’s in high schools favorite; it was propaganda that supported the British’s Gin Act. It was an illustration that depicted the awful side effects of drinking in a “evil side” way. Yet, he then drew a second illustration called “Beer Lane.” Apparently, beers made you happy and have the time of your life. I found this rather funny, since they both are alcohol, but apparently only one makes you forget about your child that you were holding. These illustrations had major impacts in Britian, thus leading to that comical media can be a tool to change a political view.


Memes, I am not one hundred percent sold on the idea. The reason more cartoons had an impact before was it came a resource that people knew and looked up to for guidance in political views. Today, everyone can have their own opinion and state it for everyone to see. I don’t really see how that gives a meme power, unless maybe it comes from someone with the power to change someone mind. Also, on another note of politics, Sealand is the way to go.

Reading Response 2 / Erin Kennedy

In the chapters from Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? Memes, Design, and Politics, Metahaven discusses the power of jokes as “an open-source weapon of the public”, where the designer is “any formmaker, regardless of material”. He also covers the decline of the graphic design industry taking on “political graphic design”, and the rise of public, open-source jokes that, when effective, can reach massive populations – whether that be an entire country or worldwide.

I thought it was interesting that the author, Metahaven, criticized the field of graphic design for being “99% bland “normality” based simply on the predicability of getting reasonable financial returns from running a graphic design practice”, or to paraphrase, criticizing graphic design professionals for focusing on making a living wage, instead of focusing on “social design”, or “political graphic design”. My thought is that, of course most graphics design professionals focus on making a living. What I do find particularly interesting though is this evolution from political commentary through jokes conveyed by professional graphic designers, cartoon professionals who worked for newspapers, or illustrators, to a more open playing field, such as memes on the internet. Where you once had to be a professional to have a voice or to have a platform to express your views, currently, anyone can contribute to the meme culture, and their work, if it does well or resonates with many people, could have a vast impact.

Metahaven also mentions, “The unpaid labor of meme making, pranking and trolling, is for DSG a hitherto untapped resource in a networked type of design power, embodied by the “in-joke” – a cloaked type of worker solidarity”. I had never considered the community of “meme makers” as a design community, but in a way, they are just that. Working anonymously, they have the power to influence many people, giving a voice to social or political feelings or ideas that many may share but don’t express. The other aspect of the meme community that contrasts from any sort of professional design community is that anyone can be a part of it, or can become a part of it. This to me is much better than professional graphic designers taking it upon themselves to make political graphic design “operate like a charity for universal, nonpolitical goods – effectively adding a few socially responsible footnotes to an already written-out, market-based, capitalist realist storyline”, because the field can now be fluid, and influenced by many, not just those with the graphic design skill set.

An interesting source I checked out was a Youtube video, The Evolutionary History of Memes. The video discusses the different “eras” of memes and how we have recently entered an era in which he argues, much like the book Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?, that memes are no longer about funny pictures or quotes, as they were when they first started, but that they can now influence the real world, in areas like politics.


Reading Response 2 / Heather Weyda

In Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? by Metahaven, Jokes & Design they argue that “Jokes, in the past, were considered for what they really are: incredibly dangerous political weapons.” Jokes are easily shareable and therefore spread faster than any other form of propaganda. These jokes also make some politicians more relevant than others. When you keep seeing the same politician over and over again on your timeline, that’s free publicity and no publicity is bad publicity.

I think that it is safe to say that meme culture played a huge role in the USA 2016 political election. The fact that this book was written in 2014 makes me wonder if the power of a meme has escalated even further than they bring up in this reading. Lets be honest with ourselves here and recognize that each and everyone of the candidates in the previous election was condensed into an easily digestible meme form. Hillary Clinton was that out-of-touch, power hungry, woman who just wanted to be one of the fellow kids. Trump was a coo-coo for cocopuffs rich guy with an attitude problem, no manners, and bizarre facial expressions. Then Bernie Sanders was your lovable socialist grandpa who, depending on who you asked, wants to give people free money. And plot twist, Trump won. He was easily the most publicized candidate throughout the entire election. He had skits about him on SNL, whole shows dedicated to him on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and memes, upon memes, upon memes about him. The man is a walking meme.

I would like to bring up the fact that Trump threatened to and has run for president before. His candidacy has always, at least to me, been a joke. I remember during the whole Obama birther movement, started by Trump, he floated the idea of running for president. I remember this because it was so heavily covered by the media. Why was it covered so heavily? Because the man is a one-liner gold mine and is a fairly entertaining meme. I don’t find it a coincidence that within a time of such heavy meme traffic that he decided to run again and won. Every single speech that this man had was televised because we were all waiting for him to do something outrageous again. Therefore people heard he viewpoints more than any other candidate. Then you pile on the publicity of the memes on the internet? Boom. You just became president.

These memes are so easily created and shared by everyone that it also does a lot of damage to the opposition as well. A lot of people will based their opinions on the influx of memes that they see. If they see a meme about Bernie Sanders and how he is a socialist who knows nothing about the economy, then that person might form their opinion based on said meme. Political memes are a form of propaganda. They are meant to sway opinions and this form of propaganda just happens to be more easily shareable than ever. Below is a personal favorite of mine that depicts Trump in the world of the Game of Thrones. It’s quite clearly propaganda and depicts him as a psychopathic tyrant, but here I am sharing it because it’s hilarious. Not to mention these memes help us all cope with the fact that he is now the ruler of the free world.

Reading Response 2 / Ariel Swift

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? by Metahaven provided a unique insight to the power of jokes that I had not see before. The reading looks at how jokes have a much deeper nature than making people laugh such as extending opinions on society and government and allowing people to reflect on the some of the almost dark hilarities of our nations current state. Metahaven even calls a joke “The highest form of power” that unites perspectives from those that are activist and those that are theorists. Jokes have evolved in a new kind of way with the advances of the Internet allowing for their viral and rapid spread. This article is incredibly relevant in relation to our country’s divides.

I feel like it’s almost a safer and easier way to share a message. You can express an opinion (perhaps one that many may oppose) in a way that is more likely to make someone laugh then to piss them off. It also get’s to the point…no long politically charged Facebook rants here! Anyone can make a meme with a simple download of a meme generator app. With the Internet at these jokes aid they take off with millions of shares and views. In all honesty I spend more time scrolling though Facebook, reddit, and twitter than I do watching news outlets so in my world I feel more likely to encounter political exposure from these memes. I almost prefer them in a way. I would rather laugh at what is happening than feel any other way.

I am not one to talk politics because of its divisive nature but one can’t reflect on the relevancy of this reading without relating it to Trump. In all honesty some of what he does is just so ridiculous all you can do is laugh. No matter what side you are on you can’t help but laugh at the Internets reaction to some of Trumps antics such as the cofveve situation. It’s examples like these that removed the divide and made everyone laugh.

I feel like memes as well as trolling has made people feel like they have gained back some of the power they feel they have lost. When our countries problems feel like one big tangles mess outside of the hands of an individual, is helps people to feel like they can at least make a statement that will reach others. It’s a movement designed by the people for the people. At first when Metahaven brought up that these meme makers were a form of designers I was hesitant to agree (perhaps even a little insulted at the notion that anyone with Photoshop is equally a designer as someone who has put intensive effort into a design degree) but perhaps they are…maybe on a unique level. Design is about communication and these memes sure are accomplishing that! An interesting perspective, combined with powerful visuals, making people feel an emotion are the building blocks of design.

Here is an interesting article detailing the role of memes in politics I like how the author of the article puts memes as “…appropriating the culture around us and short-circuiting meanings” Some times our politics can be nasty but at least I’m laughing. 🙂


Reading Response 2 / Alisha Lee

The reading ‘Can Jokes Bring Down the Government’ is especially relevant in today’s political environment here in America. During last year’s political election, memes & the internet played a powerful part in the election, and continue to do so a year into the Trump administration.

In fact, comedy played a very large part in allowing Trump to get elected in the first place, something that many comedians realized after the surprise results of the 2016 election. Late night comedy shows played a large part in the divide that continued to become increasingly obvious over the course of the election season. An article in the Atlantic from May 2017 points out Trump has long declared that he views the media as the enemy, and with almost all late night comedy shows using Trump, his supporters, or conservatives as a whole as the butt of their jokes, it becomes easy to see how those viewers would come to see major media as against them, as every major cable channel has a version of a late night comedy show. It also becomes easy to see how these shows may have played a role in getting Trump through the first part of the primaries, as they portrayed him as a fool, a clown, and an oaf rather than an actual contender for the highest position of power in America. We’ve acted similarly with leaders from other countries as well, namely Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin. Because we view these leaders as a joke, it becomes a lot harder to empathize with the people of their respective countries, which, in the case of North Korea, are facing food shortages and human rights violations.

Now that Trump has been elected, jokes, memes, and the Internet have continued to play a large part in how America interacts with his administration. Trump has become notable for his use on Twitter, and this has often been used as a source of jokes, such as ‘Covfefe’, which went viral back in May. A Wired article written after the strange tweet went viral noted that a sad joke going around after his election was that ‘America had just elected a meme as president’, and noted the truth in that statement with the examples of ‘Trump & the glow orb’ and Pope Francis’ face upon meeting Trump. However, the current administration is also notable in their negative reactions to jokes about them, with SNL often receiving critical comments from the White House on their portrayal of Trump and various people within his administration, such as Ivanka, and Sean Spicer. Trump has called Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of himself ‘terrible’ & ‘unwatchable’, often commenting on ratings, etc.  Kathy Griffin in particular received enormous backlash after she made a joke involving a fake Trump’s severed head, which led to an investigation from the Secret Service and the loss of her job with CBS.

With the current administration having such a thin skin, comedy has become a powerful double-edged sword. While it may be able to point out problems with the current administration, it also is what enabled it, and it’s important that we keep that in mind when we say that jokes can bring down a government.

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