Discourse in the Age of Memes

Much like the majority of the human race, I spend a lot of time on social media. Its a steady stream of information (much of it I don’t need) and entertainment. Recently, the two have come together as a natural evolution with the nature of their constant commingling.

This is how memes were born.

Now, the next evolution has not been simply the mixture of entertainment and information but the use of this medium in discourse, particularly with social issues. Concepts in themselves are never really good or bad on their own. They’re tools, inanimate objects that are defined by the use they are intended for. Guns, for example, may be used as tools for keeping the peace, and disrupting that peace at the same time. So too may memes be used for entertainment, and for misguided attempts to enter into discourse on social issues at the same time.

I describe the attempts as misguided under the presumption that the people who do share these memes have good intentions in doing so. However, there are several problems that hound this type of communication despite its attempts to view the issue through a more relatable and modern medium.

The first problem lies in the oversimplification of the issue. A meme can only forward your agenda to the extent of a single frame. This takes the entire issue out of context and forwards what seems like a logical idea. However, the circumstances are not as perfect as that single frame tries to portray. In other words, what you’re saying isn’t actually true because the bigger picture doesn’t necessarily permit that approach.

Even if the message communicated were true, the message has become secondary to the medium. Memes are generally meant to be a humorous portrayal. This dilutes the message communicated and focuses on the humor of the meme. It doesn’t invite more thought beyond, haha that’s good and then scrolling down. That’s not what its meant for.

Finally, memes are inherently passive-aggressive. Seldom can we find someone who produces these memes and shares it on their own personal account. Instead, the memes are only shared by real people from like pages. How often have you tried to engage in conversation and been told, I just shared it. I didn’t make it. This is a cop-out response that immediately removes any responsibility one may have in sharing that idea. It’s funny. That’s all that matters to them despite the fact that the issue and people involved are real-world entities that take on real-world consequences. Thus, it causes more divide rather than unifying to fix a perceived wrong.

We’re afraid to face these consequences that the issue represents so we hide behind our wall of humor as a defense mechanism hoping that the world will change around us. In fact, most woke memes are used to mock the non-woke populace. Its an exercise in futility if the intended goal is to inspire change.

But when has a meme, no matter how viral it has become, changed the world? If we seek to bring awareness to something, to change a specific wrong in society we find, we can’t do it by mocking the ills of society. We merely dehumanize and disrespect the nature of the issue.

Memes won’t stop the drug war. They won’t give us an independent senate. They won’t tear down Donald Trump. Let’s stop destroying discourse with memes.