By Poojil Tiwari
“Genetic ideas, behaviours or styles that spread from person to person within a culture”, or what we commonly call memes, have become an integral part of social media. You can love them or hate them, but you simply cannot ignore them. However, memes today are no longer restricted to grumpy cats wearing birthday caps. Today, they cover a wide variety of political issues and have spawned political sub-categories of their own.
The millennial culture of political discourse
No matter what political ideology you subscribe to, there exists an entire virtual world that reciprocates that sentiment. And all of it is united by the like button on that one picture. People today are rapidly consuming such memes. The biggest example of this is the popularity of leftist political memes amongst teenagers. Millennials on social media can be regarded as more sympathetic towards issues such as ‘LGBT rights’ and ‘freedom of speech and expression’. For them, memes have become the go-to method for expressing their opinions on such issues.
The reason for that is simple. A huge chunk of the younger generation does not have time to write or read heavy articles that provide detailed explanations. Instead, they are much more likely to gravitate towards a photo that captures the essence of the topic in two lines and is funny at the same time. Such content is not only easy to manufacture but also easy to share, providing an easily accessible platform to reach out to people. They provide a light-hearted and positive platform for connecting people who seemingly share the same ideology.
Influencing political opinions—subliminal messages
While supporters of such political memes claim that they serve as the launchpad for discussion, eventually these political memes end up dissolving into the same echo chambers of the internet from which they arise. A typical right wing v/s left wing debate on Facebook would feature both sides throwing around words like bhakts and sickular and sharing memes as a substitute for logical arguments.
In status quo where memes have unknowingly become a popular medium of expression of views, it would be foolhardy to view them as funny photos meant for a good laugh. We need to acknowledge that such content carries various subliminal messages for its viewers and also influences their perceptions. Memes are like flashcards. While surfing Facebook, amidst the sea of links to various news articles, this flashy photo is bound to catch a person’s attention first. Thus, unknowingly, memes have become people’s primary source of information. This, in turn, affects how one understands various narratives and forms his/her political opinions.
The lack of a nuanced understanding
Memes too, like most other things on social media, are guilty of oversimplifying things. The kind of polarisation that memes propagate has become harmful to the ideology they seem to be supporting. For instance, Marxism isn’t limited to #seizethemeansofproduction and #overthrowthebourgeois which is something Sassy Socialist Memes, a popular communist meme page, would have you believe.
The evolution of a theory as complex as communism cannot be portrayed through memes as it is impossible for them to incorporate all aspects of an issue. More often than not, they provide half-truths which lead to the creation of an “us v/s them” situation. Undoubtedly, the internet has become one of the central hubs of discussion. In such a scenario, when mocking the other side becomes the central objective and memes become the be-all-and-end-all of the discussion, a democratic conversation becomes impossible.
A post-truth dilemma—mass production and fake news
At the end of the day, almost all content on the internet is governed by viewer consumption. There is no evolutionary process when it comes to such memes. Unlike political cartoons, that provide satirical comments on recent happenings, memes are essentially reprocessing the same content. They too are governed by the idea of being ‘funny’ at all times to generate likes and/or possibly get featured in listicles in order to maintain the popularity of their pages.
The need to stay ahead and alive in the minds of viewers leads to mass production of memes. This often leads to the creation of fake news. Memes simply lull us into thinking that we are politically aware and have concrete opinions while driving us away from the truth. While a good laugh harms no one, it’s better if politics remains a serious business and people have an informed opinion.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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