The problem with making memes out of people in power

Memes expire and constantly renew themselves. As campy as they are, they’re unfortunately time-sensitive. Thus there is a need for content-miners and clout-milkers to capitalize on the situation, and what better way than to zero in on the current political shitstorm?

 

 

In true camp fashion, GMA’s appointment as House Speaker becomes easier to remember, to ignore, to face or de-face, to make light of, to sensationalize — everything becomes possible.

 

 

On July 23, during President Rodrigo Duterte’s 3rd State of the Nation Address, former president and Pampanga Representative (2nd District) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) took power which did not belong to her. In a chilling turn of events, 184 members of Congress voted in favor of Arroyo as the new House Speaker, replacing Pantaleon Alvarez. While the SONA broadcast was delayed for several minutes, another event was underway on Twitter: GMA had also apparently been made into a relatable meme.

 

 

 

 


Directly engaging with politics, even only on social media, can be messy. Memes function as a gateway for engaging with current affairs, and it’s become online culture to make memes out of any situation. This allows the public to deal with an inconsistent and confusing administration on their own humorous terms.

In true camp fashion, GMA’s appointment as House Speaker becomes easier to remember, to ignore, to face or de-face, to make light of, to sensationalize — everything becomes possible. At best, it offers fleeting catharsis and indifference. At worst, it makes room for desensitization.

One might say: Can’t we just let people enjoy things, Brenda? Sure. People can enjoy things and create memes to their heart’s’ content, but lines need to be drawn when it comes to things as crucial as this. As a culture, where do we draw the line of memes for memes sake and memes that dumb down an issue?

Take Melania Trump as an example, who was first made a meme in early 2017, after forging Michelle Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech for her own Republican National Convention speech. At face value, it was funny and offered comic relief, but it came to a point where people forgot that she is complicit in her husband’s actions.

 

 

So even if we find GMA memes funny, when there is no follow-through on the discussion—when a political meme is only a meme for laughs’ sake, when a tweet does not propel us to action—then it doesn’t have our best interests in mind.

 

 

Daniel Spielberger, a historian and writer from Los Angeles, writes of Melania’s meme-fication in general: “[…] Popular memes are a more ambiguous and decontextualized medium — relying on relatable and relevant jokes, rather than societal critiques. Such a nonsensical and Dadaist art form can result in a chaotic stew of signifiers that lacks a cohesive, subversive call to arms.”

So even if we find GMA memes funny, when there is no follow-through on the discussion—when a political meme is only a meme for laughs’ sake, when a tweet does not propel us to action—then it doesn’t have our best interests in mind.

 

Valuable information like this can get lost in the abstraction (of memes and RTs), and this is where meme-culture fails as a strategy or medium. It’s so easy to forget when we’re tickled by the humor of the moment.

 

 

When it makes us collectively forget the atrocities GMA put us through during her graft-riddled term as president in 2004: maneuvering the ZTE Deal and the signing of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking which allowed China access to Spratlys; deliberately cheating in the 2004 election via fraudulent schemes such as the “dagdag-bawas” operations in ARMM and the infamous ‘Hello Garci’ tapes; questionable diversion of OWWA funds; numerous cover-ups of systemic human rights violations and an alarming number of disappearances of government dissenters. Valuable information like this can get lost in the abstraction (of memes and RTs), and this is where meme-culture fails as a strategy or medium. It’s so easy to forget when we’re tickled by the humor of the moment.

Another interesting thing to note is that while everyone speaks, not everyone listens. Smart usage of the GMA meme, with informed follow-throughs, could help further the discussion, but an irresponsible or misinformed meme from a Twitter user with a much wider reach could also interfere with it.

I once asked a friend and activist what their rules are for posting classified or not-so-general-knowledge information on Twitter. They told me that “as long as they know they have something to contribute to enhance and further the discussion” then they’re going to tweet it. Maybe this is something we could all use a bit of — to discern whether a situation requires our expert meme-making, or whether it would be best for the Republic of the Philippines, where the integrity of democracy is doubted everyday, for us to shut up and redirect our energies elsewhere.

 

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#politics #technology

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