Memes as Interactive History: Decolonizing Discourse Through the Visual Communication of the Populous

LILLY, ‘SIMPLE YET EFFECTIVE’ [INSTAGRAM POST] (@WITCHMEMES, 23 MARCH 2018).

I belong to the generation that vaguely remembers a time before the internet, but were subsequently raised by it. It’s the framework for how we learned to interact with broader society, and how we learned about ourselves. This is where we came to express our views and form our identities. This is where we became exposed to new theories and ways of thinking. This is where we became educated on sociopolitical issues. This is where we came to directly hear marginalized voices, unmitigated by the constraints of traditional media.

Internet memes and image macros have become an extremely important tool of communication and dissemination of ideas for millennials all over the political spectrum. Memes provide modes of expressing sociopolitical beliefs in a way that is accessible to creators, sharers, and tertiary viewers, and has characteristics of immediacy which make it particularly potent in a world where we consistently scroll our feeds.

While flawed systems silence the voices of the marginalised, the digital world provides vehicles for these voices to be heard. By their nature, social media platforms are non-exclusionary; it is where content creators who are trans or gender non-conforming, queer, people of colour, the disabled, and those who have been socioeconomically sidelined are finding respite from the status quo. Creating and sharing memes does not require an art degree or higher education, a grant or a financial backer. It is visual communication for and by the people.

In 1989, bell hooks wrote, “Often when the radical voice speaks about domination we are speaking to those who dominate,”[1] but social media and the memes that traverse these platforms allow for the marginalized to speak in voices and with language and points of reference that resonate most with kindred viewers. Memes provide a valuable tool for intersectional discourse because they allow users to draw on creativity to remix, reappropriate, revise, and subvert— forms of resistance that, in the face of monolithic mainstream narratives, have become integral to the well-being of the marginalized.

It’s not that internet necessarily equalizes— it still favors what bell hooks calls the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy”[2]— but it does give platform to and amplification for discussions from othered points of view and allow us to become educated in ways that are not limited to the privileged.

Yes, the memeosphere is just like any other public space or industry; those who are most “successful” (with followers in the millions) are often privileged white cisgender males, profiting off the labor of the underrepresented. But social media and meme communities themselves are means of creating interactive histories because they give archivable, amplifiable voices to those which are otherwise stifled, which is, at the very least, a good start.

[1] bell hooks, ‘Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 36 (1989), 15–23.

[2] bell hooks, ‘Understanding Patriarchy’ [PDF], retrieved from <http://imaginenoborders.org/pdf/zines/UnderstandingPatriarchy.pdf> [accessed 12 May 2018].

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