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Social Computing Project

Social Computing SE595

Political Memes

By Joe Spence

This is the biggest field site on earth …but where are all the anthropologists?

As the internet becomes ever more embedded within social processes, it promises to  rattle the conventions of anthropological methodologies, to an extent perhaps greater than many involved in the discipline would feel comfortable to admit. Sarah Kendzior alleges that ‘anthropologists have dealt with the challenges posed by the internet by ignoring them, downplaying the importance of the medium, and discounting its impact on the lives of the people they study’ (Kendzior 2013). Such a colossal avalanche in new forms of social participation presents a threatening prospect, especially for anthropology, a discipline which so often struggles to locate and articulate its relevance in the world – a discipline tormented by epistemic crises’ of representation and legitimacy.  It represents historical disjuncture, a break with the past, a new phenomena to which anthropologists must attend. Apprehending such change shall require nothing less than a revolution in the methodologies of ethnographic enquiry. Anything less and we risk losing sight of the development of postmodern societies.  The Miniwatts Marketing Group estimates that 34.3% of the world’s population use the internet – a 544% growth in the past 12 years. 12.1% of the world’s population use Facebook alone (click link for full data).

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The internet meme…

Entering into this daunting new reservoir of cultural participation I will focus my inquiry into the rise of  a phenomena known as ‘the internet meme’.  Memes are distinctly ‘multimodal artifacts’, relying on the integration of an image with a short passage of text to help tell a joke, make an observation, or advance an argument.  The graph below (from Google trends) illustrates an exponential growth in search interest for memes over the past three years; marked by a three fold increase in search popularity throughout the latter half of 2011 alone, peaking at the beginning of 2012 and plateauing ever since.

Accepting that memes constitute an ever growing reservoir of  pop culture artifacts and arguing that they provide valuable  insight into how ‘everyday’ media texts have begun to interface with public discourses, this research project looks most precisely at the development and circulation of political memes. Broadly defined as those images which have been designed or manipulated in ways which provide social commentary on political unfoldings, political memes are currently being disseminated in their millions through various channels of social media.

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Graph showing how often the word ‘meme’ has been searched on Google since 2004

From sociobiology to digital ethnography – the evolution of the word ‘meme’…

dawkinsThe word ‘meme’ has its genesis in sociobiological and evolutionary theory. First coined by Dawkins’ in his 1976 publication ‘the Selfish Gene’, he described memes as units of cultural transmission which “propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (Dawkins, 1976; 192). He contested that memes, just like genotypes  are in a constant state of movement and flux, perpetually transforming and reconfiguring themselves through constant interaction with host environments. Ideas, just like genes, undergo a process of evolution, albeit in a more accelerated manner. The definition of a ‘meme’ has been borrowed from its Dawkinsian origin and reconstituted within a new location of digital ethnography.  Dawkins’ term now describes how a new generation of cultural products, in this case user generated images (memes), have begun circulating virally through extensive networks of internet users. Like a gene passing, human beings act as replicators who distribute memes along networks, copying and adapting them until their prominence is overshadowed by the ‘next generation’ of memes. As these tiny units of meaning move through networks they not only multiply through sharing, but become augmented, parodied and reengineered according to their shifting sociocultural and historical contexts.  Moreover- and this is crucial – memetics ‘construe belief on selectionist principles, meaning that it is not beauty or truth that matters, but adaptability for a particular population’ (Blackmore, 2000; 1). This posits a tantalising prospect for the study of meme culture. Whether they be politically orientated or otherwise, their replication and overall virality hinges on their capacity to effectively articulate the social narratives held in collective esteem by their audiences. Memes are therefore not only interesting for their communicative properties, but because they provide us with a window through which we can observe the sentiments and beliefs of populations as they unfold. Memes are much more than caricatured images or a ‘bit of fun’, they are visual expressions of complex social narratives and deep collective patterns of thought which might otherwise remain concealed from public view.

Pepper Spray Cop…

Take for example the following meme which was inspired by internet footage of police Lieutenant John Pike  nonchalantly pepper spraying a group Occupy protesters during a sit in at the University of California, Davis. It became an iconic image of state sanctioned police brutality, disproportionate authoritarianism and suppression of free speech.View the original video below:

 In the days after the video emerged, Lieutenant Pike was photoshopped out of the video and repositioned against a variety of new pictorial backgrounds ranging from children’s cartoons to movie stills, historical photos and famous paintings.  The following images are examples of such user generated memes which were being produced and disseminated throughout online networks such as Reddit, Tumblr and Facebook, in the days after the video’s publication on YouTube…

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Notice how the new backdrops are designed by their authors to emphasize and illustrate the steadfast resolve and determination of ‘activists’ in the face of oppressive state degradation. Cultural archetypes ranging from Snoopy to George Washington, Little Cindy Loo Loo to Rosa Parks are coopted by their authors, disengaged from their original contexts and reconstituted as symbols of innocence and valor, beacons of strength in the midst of painful state oppression. The meme is a powerful and discursive expression of the public’s political imagination; via the pictorial interpenetration of multiple histories, meanings and cultural icons, new life is breathed into the video as a cultural and historical artifact.

Continued Google Interest in ‘Pepper Spray Cop’…

cop graph

This graph illustrates the number of times ‘Pepper Spray Cop’ has been searched on Google.

As illustrated in the graph above, following its initial bout of ‘virality’ on the 18th November 2011 (just after the video emerged), ‘Pepper Spray Cop’,as it became colloquially known, continued to retain a significant presence on Google. This is unquestionably because of the memes continued circulation and reproduction on social networks. Through the power of social media and user generated content, a relatively minor historical moment took on certain iconic qualities and became crystallized in public discourse and social memory.

I am the 99%

This next example, also related to the occupy movement, illustrates memes at their interactive and discursive best. During a wave of occupations, online trends emerged whereby supporters of the movement began circulating handwritten memes chronicling stories of personal hardship and political disenchantment. The memes ended with the nominal slogan ‘I Am the 99%’, directly referencing the charge that the top 1% of the population posseses an unfair and disproportionate control of national and global GDP, whilst the rest suffer from declining living standards, regressive taxation, debt and widespread unemployment. The memes were designed to foster a sense of mutual hardship, class based solidarity and commitment to political resistance.

occupy stories

Ideological opponents of the Occupy movement were quick to respond with their own configuration of memes. Their memes retained many of the same aesthetical conventions, only this time reappropriating the ‘99%’ slogan with a measure of skepticism, satire and outright critique. They mimicked Occupy supporters,  parodying them as dour, hypocritical and valetudinarian individuals who fail to appreciate their relative economic prosperity in comparison to other parts of the world.

99percentresponses

Some chose to ‘graffiti’ over previous memes, in an attempt to embolden them with new meanings and points of view…

occupyresponse

The meme underwent a sustained process of change and development, readapting itself in accordance with wider social and political unfoldings. For example, on 13th March 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was secretly videotaped giving a speech at a fundraising dinner. He declared, albeit controversially, that 47% of American’s don’t pay income taxes (click for link). He derided this demographic for having an unhealthy and economically unsustainable reliance on state institutions for their social and financial security. Romney’s words resonated in stark contradiction to the ‘99%’ claims of Occupy, triggering a new generation of memes expounding an adapted slogan of ‘We are the 53%’. Such individuals employed memes to posture themselves as responsible and dutiful tax paying patriots, thereby positioning Occupy supporters as the antithetical ‘free loaders’, the spoiled and thankless recipients of others’ hard earned taxes.

occupy response

As the meme went back and forth, Occupy received support from some unlikely avenues. In some cases people claiming to be members of ‘the 1%’ used handwritten memes to express their sympathy and solidarity with those who had less economic opportunity than themselves…

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Embedded within this tense and overtly political battleground, there were those which took neither side. The following memes are ideologically ambivalent, preferring to reappropriate the 99% discourse  to suit only humorous ends. They express the perceived triviality of protest, a sense of conscious political disengagement and lack of interest, if not annoyance, with the whole Occupy debacle.

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The 99% discourse became a hotly contested space within online forums. People of all ages, backgrounds and ideological persuasions shifted and repositioned the debate, using memes as their primary discursive weapon.

Web2.0 and the rise of participatory culture….

Some argue that the birth of Web 2.0 has inadvertently created the space for a more ‘participatory democracy, involving the widespread, direct involvement of citizens in both political processes and governance; though the realities of this statement certainly require scrutiny. For a start, participation is skewed towards the privileged; in North America, penetration of the internet has been measured at 78%, compared to an average of 13.5% in the African continent.  Moreover, as Burgess and Green point out, ‘there is no necessary transfer of media power’, voice is still essentially contained by dominant societal discourses and powerful industrial conglomerates such as Facebook and Google. They conclude: ‘if more people are participating because of Web 2.0, they’re still not the ones deciding the terms of participation’  (Burgess and Green 2009). However few could disagree that such developments in digital technologies have certainly enabled users to take a certain degree of media into their own hands. Instead of being comparatively passive recipients of information, audiences do find themselves embued with the capacity to transform into active producers through uploading user generated content to the world wide web. This includes, but is not limited to, digital videos, blogs,  podcasts, forums, review sites, social networking, social media, mobile phone photography, interactive databases and wiki pages. The attractiveness of user generated content lies not only in its capacity to collapse time and space, but also to reach out to audiences of untold numbers– the web is, quite literally, our window to the world.

Memes are quickly becoming a, if not the the, central component in a revolution of user generated content. A cursory glance through any popular web platform soon reveals the extent to which memes have become integrated within web based discourse. Sites such YouTube, 4Chan, Tumblr, Reddit and Facebook are so riddled with memes that there may be an argument to suggest that in some instances, memes are beginning to overtake standardised text as the principle mechanism for user/member interaction. Technically speaking, any image which is shared beyond its original author can be described as a meme, and producing your own has never been easier. Multiple websites offer user friendly meme generation programmes. Facebook has its own meme generation app, a tutorial of which can be viewed below:

Smartphones also boast their own applications for creating memes. This allows its users to create and distribute memes from almost anywhere in the world, take for example  the following from Android. This video is a customer review of Android’s new app called ‘memegenerator:

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As these new products of ‘digital DIY’ are manufactured and subsequently disseminated through networks, increasing numbers of otherwise passive audience members have suddenly found themselves elevated to the role of authors – all it takes is the click of a mouse pad.  What has emerged is something Late Miltner calls the “language of memes”, a “visual vernacular” that allows people to pithily communicate emotions and opinions (Miltner 2011). Tanya Lokot compares the diffusion of memes to the diffusion of myths. She writes, ‘just as myths are reflections of the times and communities they originate in, memes are indicative of the people who make them go viral, subvert them and make them last longer…what goes viral and what sticks the longest reflects who people are and what they think about, and how they think about it’ (Locot 2013). The rise of the political meme is indicative of new forms of political participation. In the section that follows, I trace the life span of a single meme in considerable depth.

Binders full of women – an in depth study…

On the evening of October 16th 2012 the second US presidential debate was in session.  Responding to a question about equal pay and participation for women in society, the republican candidate Mitt Romney contended that whilst serving as governor for Massachusetts, he had requested ‘binders full of women’ in an attempt to recruit more female candidates to his cabinet.


Romney’s bewildering choice of words was immediately seized upon by the electorate. Within minutes, social media sites such as Tumblr erupted with new user generated memes, each finding new ways of parodying Romney’s rhetorical mishap. Before the debate had ended, there was already Twitter hashtag  and a Facebook page with over 100,000 subscribers (click the links for access). The phrase was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the debate. Examples of new memes include the following:

In this meme, Mitt Romneys words are transposed over a screenshot from a music video by Korean pop star ‘Psy’. His song ‘Gangnam Style’ had just become the first ever video to reach 1 billion views on Youtube. In the midst of such roaring popularity, another video emerged called ‘Mitt Romney style’. Whilst mimicking the tune, this video changed the lyrics in order to ridicule Romney’s popular perception as being an out of touch millionaire and ruthless entrepreneurial capitalist. Furthermore, in the pop video, Psy shows off his harem of women. By conflating this with Romneys comment it enforces a suggestion that Romney, despite his progressive rhetoric, still harburs misogynistic beliefs.

Gangnam Style meets Binders full of Women

In this meme, Mitt Romney’s unfortunate words are transposed over a screenshot from a music video by Korean pop star ‘Psy’. His song ‘Gangnam Style’ had just become the first ever video to reach 1 billion views on Youtube. In the midst of roaring popularity, another parodying video emerged called  ‘Mitt Romney style’ (click links). Whilst mimicking the original tune, it adapted Psy’s lyrics and video to poke fun at Romney; painting him as being an out of touch millionaire and ruthless entrepreneurial capitalist (a popular criticism a the time). The meme also has implications for how many perceive Romney’s attitude towards women . In Psy’s original pop video, the pop star brazenly shows off his harem of women in a brash display of, albeit tongue in cheek, male chauvinism  By conflating such images with Romney’s ‘binders full of women comment’, the meme obtains new symbolic capital. It enforces suggestions that Romney, despite his progressive rhetoric, still harbors misogynistic beliefs. The  various semiotic components of the meme work together to slander Mitt Romney, painting him as an unfit president who has no genuine desire to improve the livelihoods of women or further the cause of anybody other than the ruling, predominantly male, elites

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Lord of the Rings meets Binders Full of Women

Here we see Boromir, one of the heroes from the blockbuster film ‘Lord of the Rings’. In the original film clip from which the screenshot is taken, Boromir delivers a chilling message to the films main protagonists, forewarning them of the dangers they face as they venture deeper into enemy territory. The lines are delivered in a serious and foreboding manner; “One does not simply walk into Mordor”.  Here the meme’s author pokes fun at the presidential debate by juxtaposing the serious tone of the film against the offhandedness and flippancy of Romney’s remark. It seems to infer, albeit comically, that the electorate have a greater interest and investment, perhaps even greater faith, in fictional film characters than they do with Romney as a presidential candidate. Boromir is, after all, revered for his chivalrous actions and commitment to noble causes. He represents the conquest of good over evil, freedom over oppression and the capacity for the weak to prevail over the strong and powerful. In a structuralist sense, the fictional character of Boromir is posited as a type of binary opposition to Mitt Romney, who spent much of his election campaign struggling to shake off public perception of him as a greedy, uncaring and merciless vulture capitalist.  Conclusively, here we witness yet another visual integration of popular culture and political narrative. As with so many memes, its effectiveness lies in its capacity to assimilate otherwise unrelated symbols, and provide a fresh commentary on political discourse.

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Bill Clinton meets Binders full of Women

The meme on the left passes comment on accusations of infidelity which have blighted the reputations of major politicians. In 1998, it transpired that Bill Clinton had been having an extra marital affair with White house intern, Monica Lewinsky. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Clinton finally admitted the affair and was subsequently impeached by congress on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was by no means the first president to come in for criticism for sexual misdemeanors;  Thomas Jefferson, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D Eisenhower, John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson have all been known or rumored to have engaged in extra marital affairs during their time in office. Such revelations seem to have particular poignancy in the United States, whose political leaders commonly expound the virtues of married, family life in order to win support from their electorate. This narrative is further emboldened by the significance of religion in American politics, particularly the Christian and evangelical vote. The meme points to a widespread perception of hypocrisy among politicians.

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Gameshow, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ meets Binders full of Women

Aside from its obvious monetary connotations (Mitt Romney is has a net worth estimated in the region of $190-250 million) in re-positioning Romney as a contestant in the popular game show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ this meme also parodies the US presidential debates, speculating them as nothing more than a glorified game show, a fad, a public spectacle which is devoid of constructive debate. The meme illustrates Romney as a president who lacks ideas, who’s narrow minded and chauvinistically orientated when it comes to his attitude towards women.

It is arguable that, to some extent, the 2012 US election will be remembered for its clever graphics and satirical wordplay. For the first time in history, the public could enjoy watching the conventions, debates, and election night through the “second screen” of twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms. Via these new mediums, user generated metanarratives took hold and began circulating virally through public domains. Arguably, the real debate only began once the lights had dimmed on Romney and Obama. This was the window of opportunity for social media users to own the debate, to deconstruct and condense what they had witnessed on television into ‘bitesized’ forum posts, animated gifs and memes. According to media analytics company Crimson Hexagon, on the night of the second debate, ‘binders full of women’ memes made up 97% of the online conversation relating the presidential debate on gender equality. ‘Binders full of Women’ became the 3rd fastest rising search on Google and according to Cnet, received 7.2 million mentions on Twitter. This is a staggering figure considering the debate lasted a whole 90 minutes and covered a variety of topics including energy policy, taxation and homeland security.

However, by the following morning online memes had become a less prominent aspect of the online conversation; their use dipped to 48% as they were replaced with more conventional text based forms of analysis, political opinions and statements.  This suggests that the meme was a powerful catalyst in steering the initial political conversation and setting the paradigms for future debate. It appears that every other subject covered during the presidential debate, from fiscal policy to Osama Bin Laden, became somewhat obscured in an avalanche of online traffic pertaining the ‘binders full of women’ comment. The Republican campaign could neither ignore or dismiss it , Binders full of Women became catapulted to the front pages. Fox News, so often regarded as being notoriously sympathetic to the Republican cause, felt compelled to try and reengineer the debate in an attempt to prevent what was quickly becoming something of a political catastrophe for Romney’s $992 million dollar presidential campaign.

republican meme

A meme released by the Republican National Committee on 17th October 2012 .

24 hours after the debate, The Republican campaign responded to the online phenomenon by releasing a satirical meme of their own (pictured left). However, despite the campaigns obvious reservoirs of resources, their meme garnered little support from the electorate. Arguably this is because the main attraction of a meme is its capacity to evade the influence of preexisting power structures. They have a certain democratic quality which allows them to take on a life of their own without interferences from preexisting hegemonies. Political memes are subversive; campaigns cannot engineer their success, they can merely react to other user generated memes as they emerge spontaneously throughout cyberspace. As Jurgenson writes: ‘meme politics often actively resist a campaigns intentions…those that proliferate, on and offline, are not what any of the campaigns planned. Obama gave “Romnesia” a hard sell but failed to spark a fire’ (Jurgenson 2012). As such the trajectory of U.S. election coverage became unmoored from campaign headquarters and D.C. bureaus and placed into the hands of the loudest crowds and their swiftest microbloggers (Hess 2012).

The life, death and political implications of viral memes…

After peaking substantially on the same evening as the presidential debate, the production and reproduction of ‘binders full of women’ memes gradually dissipated over the 24 hours that followed. However, to the dismay of Republicans, it soon came back with a vengeance, making a  steady resurgence in the run up to the third and final presidential debate on October 21 2012. By this point, the overall balance of the conversation tilted again towards using memes as the primary method of online communication. According to the data from Crimson Hexagon 67% of the online conversation pertaining to Romney’s record on gender equality were expressed through the use of memes. Just 33% of posts were text based comments exploring “binders full of women” as a political statement. It was only after the conclusion of the third and final debate that the online conversation finally came to a proper standstill, albeit making a brief reappearance on 5th November 2012, hours before voters went to the polls.

binders interest

All of the data seems to point to the fact that the public began producing and circulating the meme during moments of heightened political intensity, such as just before an important debate or by the time it came to vote. It seems plausible that memes were being used, consciously or otherwise, to steer the political conversation in certain directions, or provide emphasis on historical moments that the electorate felt could influence the eventual outcome of the election. It begs the question: are memes a new tool of political propaganda? Could they be a way for ordinary people to reinforce or otherwise influence political developments? Might we describe memes as an emergent form of DIY cyberactivism?

If we are correct in assuming that memes are indeed being used for such purposes, it would follow that the interest and virality of a political meme should correlate positively with voting behavior among the demographic within which it circulates. In the context of US election, this would imply that memes designed to defame Romney and his Republican party should be more popular within Democratically inclined geographical regions. I have put this theory to the test by using statistics from Google trends which indicate the top ten US cities to exhibit online interest in Romney’s ‘Binder Full of Women’ comment. In this case ‘online interest’ can be calculated by measuring the number of times ‘binders full of women’ was entered into Google search engines during October and November 2012. My hypothesis predicts that the localities which showed greatest interest in defaming Romney through rebroadcasting his ‘Binders Full of Women’ comment should also be the cities with weaker Republican turnouts. The table below lists the top ten cities to exhibit interest in ‘binders full of women’, and then compares each cities’ interest  with their overall voting behavior  As predicted, all ten cities with the greatest interest in ‘Binders full of Women’ voted against Romney when it came to the final electiion.

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voting and binders

Graph compares the popularity of the ‘Binders full of Women’ meme with voting behaviors as per geographical region.

Such data illustrates, with startling accuracy, that wherever there was more online interest in ‘binders full of women’ (and presumably more memes in circulation), the populace were more likely to vote against Romney. Therefore, as the report from Crimson Hexagon also concludes: ‘analysis of the social media space throughout the presidential election demonstrates that memes, satire and unintended messages create the space for more  serious treatments of political issues. Humor, jokes, and memes should not be considered a distraction from political conversation, but as burgeoning aspects of political engagement’. Internet memes, despite their satirical and playful facade, look set to become an increasingly influential idiom through which political issues are communicated and acted upon.

Weapons of the weak…

In his seminal book ‘Weapon of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance’, James Scott argues that highly confrontational forms of political resistance often remain invisible to historians, precisely because their structures are built around concealment and invisibility. Dramatic forms of conflict which mobilize large numbers of people in direct and sometimes violent attacks against hegemonic structures occur only when bodies of repressive power are seen to be considerably weakened or disorganized. Meanwhile, everyday forms of political resistance are a exemplified by a ‘constant, grinding battle to ‘nibble’ into power edifices through a variety of tactics…theft, gossip, backbiting, nicknames, sabotage… behaviors which stop short of open defiance but still disrupt elite policies. Everyday forms of political resistance are typified as a never ending attempt to seize small advantages and press them home, to probe the limits of existing relationships, to see precisely what can be gotten away with at the margin, and to include this margin as part of an accepted, or at least tolerated, territorial claim’ (Scott 1985). Had Scott been writing today, there is no doubt he would have included political memes in his repertoire of weapons for the weak.

The proliferation of internet Memes, it appears, may have sprung from two main social processes. The first is simple, and requires little elaboration – that is – memes are easy to make and distribute. The second process however, is more complex, and deserves considerable attention. Memes, it seems, could be the the result of widespread political disenchantment.  Click here to view some statistics collated by the Pew Research Centre, which catalog a dramatic decrease in voter satisfaction in America since 1960.

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Graph illustrating the fluctuation and decline in voter trust in Federal Governments since 1960

Further still, citizen disengagement is a distinguishable trend on both sides of the Atlantic. The results of the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey found that just 56% of the electorate felt they had a duty to vote and since 2001, and both Britain and America consistently achieve some of the lowest electoral turnouts among established European democracies. Politicians are widely regarded to be distrustful; with allegations of scandals, sleaze and corruption deeply affecting public opinion. Only around a quarter of the electorate say they trust politicians to put the needs of the nation before the needs of their party (Bromley 2004). Just one in three say they feel ‘a strong sense of attachment’ towards a single party and an increasing number perceive there to be little or no difference between the two major ones anyway (Dalton 2008). Political disenchantment is particularly common among young people, who are, interestingly, the most likely demographic to post political memes.

However,  it should be argued that levels of political disengagement can and should not be measured by election turnouts or public opinion alone. Whilst fall in electoral turnouts are significant, they have not been accompanied by declines in other forms of political activity (Bromley 2004). Non electoral engagement is at an all-time high, with voters more likely to take part in a political protest, write to their MP or sign a petition than ever before. Digital media technologies are facilitating new forms of political participation. Kohut (2008) found that in America, 37% of people aged 18–24 received more campaign information about the 2008 presidential election from social networking sites than they did from newspapers. Similarly, 41% of 18–29 year olds went online during the campaign to watch candidate interviews, debates, speeches, or commercials (Kohut, 2008). One can only assume these figures will continue to rise as Web 2.0 becomes further embedded in social and political process.

Memes manufacture an illusion of meaningful participation in a political system from which ordinary citizens feel increasingly estranged and alienated; a system run on wealth and bureaucracy that feels largely incomprehensible to normal people. They are an expression of political disenchantment and disempowerment. They are precisely the type of  ‘gossip’ and the ‘backbiting’ which James C Scott talks about in his book. They are an, albeit modernized, way to manufacture ‘nicknames’ and ‘sabotage’ the reputation of those more powerful than ourselves. Through the consumption of memes, by liking and sharing them, and manufacturing our own, people are able to place politics at an ironic distance, ‘making political statements while simultaneously mocking the political process’ (Jurgensen 2012).

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The semiotic war…

In this  report we have seen how political discourses are being reflected  in online battles between competing memes. It has been an account of how political memes function as participatory texts, how they represent social identities, and how they are used to provide commentary on political events.We have seen how symbols and other cultural artifacts are being routinely co-opted, decontextualised and redeployed as political weapons used in the defamation of ideological opponents. However, as Geertz reminds us, the creation and management of symbols in sociological discourse is hardly a new phenomena.  “Culture”, he postures, “is a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes toward life” (Geertz 1973). Memes constitute part of this process and as their use becomes more and more widespread, shall require further attention from those engaged in the social sciences.

Bibliography

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Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Malden, MA: Polity.

Dalton, RJ (2008). How we participate. Citizen Politics. Oxford CQ Press, pp 32-56

Dawkins, R (1976). The Selfish Gene. 2nd ed. London: Oxford Paperbacks. 192.

Geertz, C. (1973), “Religion as a cultural system”. in Geertz, C., The interpretation of cultures, New York: Basic Books.

Hess, A. (2012). Binders full of Big Bird: The risk & benefits of reporting on memes. Available: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/192645/binders-full-of-big-bird-the-risk-to-journalism-when-memes-replace-meaning-in-political-journalism/. Last accessed 1/05/2013.

Jurgensen, N. (2012). Speaking in Memes. Available: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/speaking-in-memes/. Last accessed 1/05/2013.

Kendzior, S. (2013). On Legitimacy, Place and the Anthropology of the Internet. Available: http://ethnographymatters.net/2013/02/13/on-legitimacy-place-and-the-anthropology-of-the-internet/. Last accessed 1/05/2012.

Kohut, T. (2008). Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008 Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off. Available: http://www.people-press.org/2008/01/11/internets-broader-role-in-campaign-2008/. Last accessed 28/04/2013.

Lokot, T. (2013). Dilutions of Grandeur: Meme Longevity and Political Disillusionment. Available: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/01/19/dilutions-of-grandeur-meme-longevity-and-political-disillusionment/. Last accessed 1/5/2013.

Miltner, K. (2011). SRSLY PHENOMENAL: An Investigation Into The Appeal Of LOLCATS. Available: http://www.scribd.com/doc/97963815/SRSLY-PHENOMENAL-An-Investigation-Into-The-Appeal-Of-LOLCATS. Last accessed 29/4/2013.

Scott, J (1987). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. United States of America: Yale University Pres. 10-55.