Why memes have been an effective tool for socialists and the young left
memeshave become a part of everyday life for millennials and Gen Z, socialist memes have helped popularize a once-stigmatized political affiliation.
- The young left is being introduced to
socialismand mobilized in a new way as socialist memes are widely shared by meme groups, politicians, and supporters.
- Despite being low-effort, socialist memes critique modern life under capitalism in a way that's relatable for the internet-savvy young left.
Socialism and its related political philosophies and identification have seen a steady rise in recent years. Politicians and candidates like Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Representative Ilhan Omar are making waves in the American political scene and have found success on a stage that was once openly hostile to the idea of socialism and those affiliated with it. As the younger left is being introduced to and engaging with socialism like no other previous generation, they're using one of their native languages to spread their political gospel — memes.
Despite being a relatively new medium, memes are a powerful political tool.
Thanks to their directness, humor, and relative ease to make, memes have changed and are still changing the political landscape across the entire political spectrum, and have proven to be one of the best forms of contemporary political communication, and recent organizing around socialist causes suggests that memes may be a fundamental method of carrying that political message forward.
Young people's age and political context make them ideal targets for socialist memes.
So far, millennials and Gen Z have gotten the short end of the generational stick. Economically, two "once-in-a-lifetime" economic collapses have happened (the 2008 global recession and COVID-19's financial fallout — the full extent of the latter isn't known yet) in their lifetime. Additionally, The majority of 20 and 30 years olds are living paycheck-to-paycheck, they make and save less money, and are less likely to own a home compared to previous generations.
With a lack of security, safety, and certainty, it's no wonder millennials and Gen Z are seeking respite from the physical world and disappearing into the digital.
According to a 2019 Pew survey, nearly 100% of millennials use the internet, with 86% using social media. And no matter if you think Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, and the like are beacons of hope, the devil incarnate, or a mix of the two, there's no getting past it; they're homes away from the unaffordable, unsustainable homes of reality.
Coincidentally, the internet is the natural habitat for memes and is usually where they're born, shared, and go to die. For the most part, memes can primarily be defined as humorous — they're created to make people laugh. But they're usually funny because they relay some sort of truth. For instance, take this socialist Spongebob Squarepants meme that elucidates on the trials and tribulations faced in adult life — namely, economic injustice. Memes are vessels that enable millennials and Gen Z to make sense of the world.
Though memes are underplayed as childish or asinine, they can serve as powerful political tools. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become famous for her fluency in meme culture. Melding humor with political observations and takes via memes, it's helped the Representative — and socialism as a movement — gain millions of additional followers.
Meme groups were created for entertainment and for political expression.
Meme groups are social media groups or pages where the people post memes they've created. With their humorous original content, socialist meme groups aim to point out what they see as the failures of capitalism as an economic structure, conservatism as a political one, and explain how, due to the overlapping of the two, millennials and Gen Z have inherited a world that's not good enough.
Socialist meme groups have a substantial following, particularly from the internet-savvy younger left. One of the largest — and most well-known — socialist meme groups is Sassy Socialist Memes, with over 1 million likes on Facebook. Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash, which encouraged American followers to get involved with direct action, has nearly half a million likes. Meanwhile, Advanced Space Socialism Memes, which posts memes that are just as amusing and astute as the two others, is liked by just over 56,000 people.
The admins of Sassy Socialist Memes said that socialist meme groups have had a major impact in a relatively short amount of time: "There was a niche in the meme market so to speak — there were no major lefty meme pages, so we decided to create one for entertainment. It snowballed and got popular. It provides a way to interact with [socialist] concepts and ideas that people would normally not have in their lives."
Via their humor, critique, and DIY ethos, socialist memes have played an important part in introducing politically-interested youth to socialism. Fabien Newton-Edgar, the Co-Youth Officer of Leeds NE Constituency Labour Party, said his beliefs were influenced by socialist memes: "I see a lot of memey content, and I think they probably were an important part of the environment where my
Memes have been successful for all types of political movements and actions.
Seeing as they're concise, low-effort, and most importantly effective, memes aren't just utilized by the left. On the other side of the political spectrum, the young alt-right found success in creating, sharing, and using memes like Pepe the Frog and Feelsman. Meanwhile, outside forces like the Internet Research Agency — a Russian troll farm — have used memes' inherent power to stir up political divide, most notably during the 2016 US presidential election.
Similarly, socialism has had great success with memes. How, exactly, did images with a few lines of text on top of them help change the contemporary understanding of an entire political movement and philosophy?
Firstly, socialist memes are laden with young energy and aesthetics that are familiar to the digital generation. They have a lazy-image-editing-is-the-point aesthetic that was made popular via 4Chan then, later, Tumblr. They concern topical events, people, phrases, or references that often go over the heads of boomers. This all conveys a relatability in socialism that people may not be able to find in other political movements.
The academic accessibility of socialist memes has also helped. Core concepts, beliefs, and ideals are boiled down to easy-to-read, easy-to-understand, concise snippets of text. Instead of wading through the entirety of The Communist Manifesto or thinking that a short course is needed to get a primer on what's at the heart of socialism, socialist memes provide key principles right off the bat. They act as an introduction to socialist politics and philosophy.
It's the inherent humor in these memes that's done the most work in changing the perception of socialism. Socialsm has had to confront a reputation of 'angry' populist politics, and by presenting socialism's politics and philosophy in an amusing, tongue-in-cheek way, it's helped to rebrand socialism as more inviting. And for the younger left who technically agree with socialist ideals but may be on the fence about exploring socialism further, humor may be the gentler approach.
Considering the difficulties that millennials and Gen Z face there's a deep-rooted desire for some sort of change. Socialism and socialist memes bring a semblance of hope that change can happen.Read the original article on Insider
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