Social media encourages a steady diet of intellectual candy. What we need is a real meal.
Ego-food may feel good while we’re eating it, but does little to actually nourish us. Ridiculing the other side may make us feel powerful when we are not, but does not give us power. Echo-chambers may make us feel validated, but they do nothing to change the world for the better.
I get it. We all need a laugh. Some memes are even clever and actually make a point. I’m not trying to be a stick in the mud, I just feel a driving need to deepen the conversation somewhat.
We are in a stinking pile of corporate authoritarian bigoted excrement in the U.S. and much of Europe and we are not going to meme our way out of it.
Nonetheless, I’ve seen a proliferation of memes filling my feed in the last three months. Every single tweet has 27 memes to commemmorate and proliferate it within 24 hours. While browsing for online content jobs (ah, the glamorous life of the unemployed blogger!), I came across the required qualification must be good at generating large quantities of humorous memes. I briefly considered playing the with a meme generator program to see if I could do this, desperation being what it is. I learned a few years ago that snarky comments to articles are the ones that generate huge amounts of ‘likes,’ and doesn’t that feel validating?
Like sound bites and other forms of communications geared towards a short-attention-span mindset, most memes fail to deepen our understanding of an issue so much as reaffirm our tribal loyalties. I get it, in times of fear, we turn to our tribe for comfort. To make the world a better place, however, we need to move beyond this retreat. To have more, we need to be more and do more. Occasionally, a meme may resound like poetry, a tweet can give us pause to think like an electronic haiku, a soundbite may elegantly sum up a position. Most often, however, they are but snickers in the back of the classroom. It’s time for us all to get beyond that, and take a turn at the podium. It’s time to talk, at length, and to listen. It’s time to use critical thinking and ask ourselves why we are here and how we get out. It’s time to work for something beyond a once-every-four-years popularity contest into active, consistent civic engagement.
Just to get it out of our systems first, here is a quick summation of most every meme ever created for any side of an issue. Like George Carlin, this list is incomplete. Please add to it in the comment section. My use of the word ‘tribe’ here is not meant to disparage any legitimate, actual tribes, but merely is used to indicate a level of party loyalty which goes beyond the logic of political positions, and also reflects similar cultural islands into which we have organized ourselves.
- This person sure is a hypocrite because one time they said X and they just said Y!
- Boy, isn’t this person stupid because they said X!
- Here’s a particularly unflattering picture of X!
- This proves conclusively that members of our tribe are smarter, more moral, more popular and have fresher breath than all the other tribes!
- Here is an out-of-context bit of rhetoric to show how my candidate should be sainted!
- Do not question our leaders, apostate! This mess is due to your disobedience to tribal authorities!
- This famous person agrees with our tribe!
What, then do memes fail to accomplish?
- Convince anyone to change their opinions about anything
- Broaden our understanding of an issue
- Convince someone to vote differently
- Engage others in meaningful conversation
- Restore anyone’s rights
- Heal the environment
- Gain us political power
How, then, do we do these critical things to restore democracy and empower our voices? That’s one of the things I created this blog to explore. Civic engagement, deep, face to face conversations, working outside our demographic. That’s how. It all takes time, commitment, and a willingness to think critically and live outside of our comfort zones. It means owning up when we are wrong, and standing up when we are right.
How, indeed, do we restore democracy? We work for it.