From Trump to Bolsonaro it is clear that when our drunk uncles took to social media, like Christmas, they would find a way to ruin it. Recently the common grounds we call the internet has been the sphere of ever more attacks by big business and governments
The left has once again conceded ground on our natural territory. This time bussing jokes and being sarcastic. There have always been right-wing nutters online but for a long time, they were too busy writing Ayn Rand fan-fiction to bother us much. So why the influx of the past years? Most people don’t trust traditional media and as someone that has studied and works within it, I can attest that it is the completely correct view to have. The papers have fostered the very events that has let “fake news” flourish. If you claim that the Clintons are the only hope for representative democracy, then why should anyone ever believe anything you print ever again. From hacking dead schools’ girls’ phones to papering innocent people over the front page and lambasting them as morons, they look around and keep shouting at we plebs “WHY DON’T YOU TRUST US”.
In the tumbling faith of legacy media, a surge of dark money and other buzzwords have rushed to fill the void for the meltituted. Building on the groundwork the right-wing press has established they use simplest emotive stories and pictures that are easily shared. Or “memes”. Let’s put aside the etymology of memes for this article as Richard Dawkins is as intelligent as he is getting on with Christians. There are many reasons that the right has seen a surge recently and I’d be hesitant to blame the internet, but it certainly hasn’t done much to stop it. But what the right has always been good at doing is pushing out clear simple and emotive narratives. Are a lot of the narratives incredibly stupid and easily countered, yes? Does that work? No.
Often the right is setting the agendas and we are scrambling for the perfect retort. The “ahh got yea with facts” libs are clearly not winning the battles for hearts and minds. Once you’ve entered a discussion on Jewish power in the Weimar Republic, you’ve already lost, because they will distort the facts and have no problem doing so to fit their views. Surely the correct argument would be “why do you need to hate the Jews for your ideologue to function”?
As the Remain camp found during the Brexit referendum it is near impossible to counteract clear and undiluted bullshit. And let us be fair, the right often has an ingenious way of arguing. Often their childlike refusal to accept the facts and evidence of their wrongdoing is so off footing we simply shrug and walk away.
So, what can we do? Obviously, I’m not saying making more memes is going to sort anything. It is just a very small part of a very large problem. But we have plenty of solutions to everyday problems, so why are we not getting these messages out there in simple and emotive ways?
One of the reasons that right-wing memes can spread quicker and faster is they are often based on abstract concepts. For instance, they might say “all black people are lazy and don’t work and Liam Neeson should beat them up”. It’s intangible, nebulous and will confirm people’s biases. The usual counter to this blatant stupidity is with facts and figures, which bores the shit out of most people. As any philosophy student will attest, deductive arguments don’t really have the desired effect when you are arguing with your better half about who paid for the taxi at three in the morning.
We also try and humanise the situation; putting a human face to tragedies, telling their stories to those that need to hear it. But for that to work, the recipient requires empathy, and those in power don’t have a lot of that going around. Neither of these approaches lend themselves to easy memeing.
The simple fact is the right are happy to flood the press and the internet with so much ideological bullshit that all we desire is to disconnect from it and not engage. Funny pictures are never going to change the world, but if they are coupled with a coherent method and strategy they have the ability to push the messages further.
If you feel the need to engage with the right online, never be reasonable, take everything down to their level or preferable below their level and confused them with your own bullshit. The time is ours to take back the city, then take back the internet.
James W. Anderson
(The present article is published at Anomie zine – Issue 1)