Do memes belong in politics?

Should politicians be allowed to meme? Has the memefication of politics cheapened discourse? Or are memes part of an ancient tradition of shallow sloganeering in the halls of power?

As three-time New York Governor Mario Cuomo once observed, ‘You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.’

He meant that while the everyday business of running a city or a state may well be a bit dull, the messaging around how power is contested and kept – political campaigns, in other words – could, and even should, be a bit more lively and fun. 

Cuomo died in 2015, so narrowly missing the grim spectacle of the 2016 US Presidential Election, and for that matter the Brexit vote in the UK. Was there much poetry, then, during that landmark year in the rise of modern political meme culture?

The Left Can’t Meme

Depending on your viewpoint of course, the Great Meme War (totally, actually a thing) deployed all the most regrettable aspects of meme culture. Trump (hey remember him) was elected, or certainly picked up a few votes here and there, off the back of his unofficial army of self-styled meme lords. 

Did they swing the election for him? Perhaps. Those endless GIFs of Hillary Clinton being bundled into an SUV, or freaking out because somebody launched some balloons at her party certainly didn’t help her campaign. 

But hang on, aren’t all campaigns inherently meme based, Pepe notwithstanding?

Make America Great Again’, love it or hate it, is a killer slogan. It’s repeatable. It’s simple. it doesn’t need an image macro. It’s a damn fine meme. Anybody remember Hillary’s slogan?! Course not. Bad meme.

Brexit Means Brexit

In the UK, the Brexit vote was fought with angry fervour by meme lords and, it turns out, a lot of help from troll farms

Because memes don’t go through any of the editorial rigour proper newspapers are forced to go though before they’re published, anybody can sneak any old garbage into an image macro. And if it resonates with people, legitimate or not, it’ll go viral.

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But again, the truly effective memes are fully IRL – oldschool slogans. The Leave campaign had a very simple, very effective slogan: ‘TAKE BACK CONTROL’. It’s a dumb message, really, but, again, a great meme. 

Turns out the British Left can’t meme either. 

Beyond Satire

So if we can agree that online memes don’t affect the outcome of elections that much – there’s far too many normies out there, who actually bother to vote, and who aren’t on their phones all day – what actually is the point of political memes?

There’s always been an appetite in popular culture for satire. Whether that’s old-timey political cartoons, TV puppet shows lampooning whoever happens to be in charge, or the countless nightly political comedy shows aired every night in the US.

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People like to make fun of the powerful. And there’s no more playful way of doing that, these days, than a good meme. High-quality inside jokes, that are instantly relatable to anybody with even a passing interest in the news. 

But aren’t memes just the lowest common denominator of debate? Will anything meaningful ever be discussed through memes. And, most importantly of all, are memes cheapening political discourse?

The answer is no. Political discourse was already cheap way before memes came along.

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Ever wondered if you could GET RICH MAKING MEMES?

Are CLASSROOM MEMES actually good for teaching?

Also, while we’re here, IS STEALING MEMES ILLEGAL?

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