Memes of a Nation

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The 2016 election was the first one that I could vote in, and I was fired up and ready to go. Those flames dissipated as I saw the breakdown of decency and the death of truth play out in dramatic fashion. Unsure of how to pop the liberal bubble and counter the disorder surrounding me, I did nothing. As the hateful rhetoric and shameful double standards piled on, I grew disheartened about the future. However, I thought that surely it would all end with the first female President, and not the first Cheeto President? The United States would defy the odds and do something good, right? Right?

Turns out I was wrong.

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I spent part of that November night with my Theatre School peers, sharing our personal and artistic responses to the trash fire that had been the past year, and the other part drinking and dissociating in my apartment watching the horror unfold. I didn’t see a single smile the next morning. The night before, we tore up pictures of Trump in what we thought was a cathartic moment. We were just left with the fear. For me, that feeling soon evolved, but I was, and remain, heartbroken.

Unable to face the news or think about the years ahead without feeling a bit queasy, I had to find a different way of coping with the reality of an incoming President Trump.

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Memes of the dankest variety were my answer.

The viral factor is key to the overall impact of memes, and in the days after the election, memes were generated in droves. Some conveyed sadness. Others conveyed outrage or anger. The kind that struck me the most, helping to set me on the path to healing, were of former Vice President (and America’s favorite uncle) Joe Biden thinking of all the pranks he could leave for the President-elect when he came to power.

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Over 60,000 people have shared that image, allowing its message to be thrown to all corners of the Internet. This gives me what tearing images of Trump to shreds on election night could not – a real sense of release, a release that could not be snatched away from me. Seeing these images and sharing them with others created a community of those who wanted to start to heal and see how to move forward. Being a fan of memes for many years, I was in awe of the new political responsibilities the form was taking on. My artistic and political sides could finally find a connection.

Objectively, the idea of memes holding any kind of political power seems ridiculous. But in thinking about how the game of politics is an ever-evolving beast, the notion makes sense to me. Memes, a product of social media, must evolve alongside the function social networking plays in the election process – transcending the Meme Dark Ages into a Meme Renaissance in which memes eclipse the fact of being funny and begin to help heal and unite a worn-down populace.  

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November 8, 2016 was the first time I could vote for a Presidential candidate. It did not turn out the way many of us had hoped. Having my first national election pan out the way it did – not just losing, but losing based on a rigged system of outright hatred, along with a clear contrast in capability between an overqualified woman and an egotistical, maniacal child – was enough to squander any hope. When all seemed lost, I found a strange kind of solidarity in finding and sharing memes that echoed the anguish I felt over a country that seemed to be derailing. Through that community, reconciliation became a possibility on the horizon and every day after that November Tuesday did not seem so dark.

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