The Meme Election

For Al Jazeera, I wrote about the “meme election” and how the focus on internet memes masks broader political issues:

Memes are defined as units of culture which spread virally through commentary, imitations and parody. As Hess noted, they are “crowd-sourced” – but the question is whose culture, whose crowd? Memes rely on constant awareness and participation. Internet access is the bare minimum required to understand memes – one must also possess a level of technological and political literacy that many people do not have the time or resources to cultivate. Moreover, they may lack the desire. In an election year, memes can be self-defeating – less an assertion of political power than an avowal of the pointlessness of politics.

Memes tell us more about the people creating and spreading them than they do about the topics they address. They thrive on networks like Twitter, used by less than 16 per cent of the population but by most journalists. This has led to a proliferation of articles on topics such as Paul Ryan’s abs, Joe Biden’s laugh, and Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, their political significance decreed by their ability to prompt widespread mockery. It has also led to a number of articles noting how memes trivialise politics and distract from a serious conversation about the issues.

But this is only partly true. Memes do not distract so much from a serious conversation about the issues so much as affirm that a serious conversation about the issues is something we have long stopped having.

Read the full article, The Power of the Meme, at Al Jazeera.

Today I appeared on Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” with Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner, journalist Amanda Hess, and sociologist Nathan Jurgenson to discuss the role of memes in politics. Amanda and Nathan have both written great articles about memes and the presidential election – see Binders full of Big Bird and Speaking in Memes, respectively. I will post a link to our segment later.

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