Memes are a form of culture, and as such they should be studied. Memes have become incredibly popular recently, and many people use them to express themselves. It’s also relevant to understand memes because they can be used for political purposes. In this article, I will attempt to demonstrate how memes can be used for political purposes by taking a closer look at the phenomenon of the alt-right – a far-right movement – and try to understand it better by analyzing its memetic content.

First, what is a meme?

What do you know about memes? You might think that a meme is just a funny picture with words on it. That was my original interpretation too – until I started looking into it more deeply (SILVERBLACK, Meme, 2016).

The word meme comes from the Greek word mimema, which means something that is imitated. Hence, in biology a meme can either be an idea or behaviour that spreads through human culture in a manner analogous to the spread of biological traits in non-human organisms. This is why some people refer to memes as ideas or behaviours that get copied and spread between people (Wikipedia contributors, 2017b).

To quote EAGLESHAM: “A meme is just a unit of cultural transmission. It’s not necessarily funny. It’s not necessarily political” (EAGLESHAM, Memes, n.d.). However, we should pay attention to memes because they are increasingly used by politicians and activist groups to manipulate public opinion, with devastating results.

Memes as a political tool 

It’s certainly interesting that memes are now used for political purposes. We all know that politicians and companies pay millions of dollars for advertising campaigns designed to influence public opinion, but those campaigns often come from the establishment side – they’re there to support their interests. In contrast, activist groups use memes as a counter-strategy against powerful institutions by using humour as a way of getting people on their side (GLOVER, 2017).

In recent years, activists have been using more subversive forms of humour – which is what made me start investigating this phenomenon in more detail. That being said, the idea of using humorous content for social change isn’t new: black activist groups used humour in the past to communicate their ideas with each other, which is why they called themselves “the laughing resistance” (GLOVER, 2017).

The difference with modern humour is that it’s much more subversive because of the anonymity that the internet provides. This has allowed for people with similar interests to join together online and create communities focused around common values, whether they’re about politics, culture or something else entirely.

It also means that powerful institutions are starting to lose control of the message on some topics. Take for example Donald Trump’s speech after Charlottesville: even though he used rhetoric that was far-right, he still managed to be publicly criticized by some members of his team. The fact high-ranking individuals in a country with such a high level of media exposure can publicly disagree with their political leader speaks volumes about the power of memes.

Meme culture is increasingly influencing our world, and we need to understand it better if we want to be able to recognize (and perhaps even use) memes for political purposes. This leads me too…

What is the alt-right? 

The alt-right – short for alternative right – is an umbrella term used by white nationalists and white supremacists who believe that white identity and whiteness should play an integral role in politics (GLOVER, 2017). While some members of this movement are clearly racist, others are more subtle, which means that you might not spot them unless you know where to look.

People confuse the alt-right with the far right, but they’re not quite the same thing. Some people think that the alt-right are just a group of people who have very different political opinions to them, but that’s not true because there are many core values that unite this community.


Memes that the alt-right have used for political purposes

On a final note, I want to look at some memes made by the alt-right so we can learn from them. The first meme is called “white survival”, which is a racist slogan intended to provoke fear in white people about an impending attack on their race. Another meme labeled “Jews destroy nations” makes use of anti-Semitic rhetoric with swastikas and dollar bills, which hints towards Jews being rich bankers who benefit from global chaos. It’s clear that the alt-right is against multiculturalism because this meme says: “if you’re not white, you’re not right”. 

In my opinion, all of these examples are very powerful because they make emotional appeals to their audience by playing on their fears and prejudices. By the end of this article, you should be aware that memes can be used as powerful tools for political movements like the alt-right to create a community and gain momentum. Also, you can use site Meme Scout to get free memes. While some members of this movement are clearly racist, others are more subtle which means that you might not spot them unless you know where to look. 

By Ahmed


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