On lone dependence on memes as protest tools

There was a time when protests were done knowing well enough that such actions could cost your life or a stint in prison. Whether it was on the streets, or publishing or airing subversive materials, people were prepared for any possibility of harm that may come their way for pushing whatever vision or reforms they advocated.

They also wrote and articulated their visions for society. Lengthy treatises, essays, and journals presented a precise picture of what these people wanted to accomplish and most, if not all of the time, pushed for inclusiveness and the deliberate stance of convincing people to join their cause and subsequently increase their numbers and influence.

In 2020, there’s a pronounced difference in the way clashing ideas are presented to the world. Thanks in no small part to the democratization of access to information and technology. Suddenly the tools available to only a small fraction of people before—a platform with an audience, publishing capability, video production—are now in the hands of the average person. And this presented a tricky scenario as far as exchanges of ideas between opposing camps are concerned.

These days, anyone with a mobile device and access to an internet connection can contribute to discussions about everything. Of course, as far as discussions go, politics and social issues are perpetually on top of the preferred topics. And this is the digital era where information is presented in a myriad of different platforms, and near-infinite sources of said messages.

While the advent of social media was hailed as a great equalizer in terms of wresting the controls from the kind of narrative traditional media wanted to impose, its downside was in sifting through tons of noise, shady, and downright malicious and false information. With the latter being exploited to the hilt by traditional media as sources of “fake news”.

And since digital content is so easy to generate and share across numerous avenues, people became lazy in producing original materials and have been dependent on just sharing other people’s outputs and ideas to express themselves. Aside from opinion pieces and blogs/vlogs—still the best methods in articulating one’s thoughts—the most popular mode of expression these days are through memes. The latest incarnation of protest through humor against a perceived enemy. Simple, straightforward, and easily recognizable.

Nothing wrong with sharing memes, because they serve a function as outlets to humor and witty discussions. But solely depending on these things as the only ways to present your stand on any divisive issue is, while valid, ultimately counterproductive and a dead-end when it comes to your desired outcome.

Like effigies and parodies, memes are direct and uncompromising in their attack. And like the other tools that preceded it, should be treated as a supplementary aid rather than a primary mode of expression. The total dependence to it presents a one dimensional portrait of the sharer, which is simply opposing for opposing’s sake, or the opposite. No other insight or rational explanation behind it, just a constant attack. No answer as to why the person thinks that way about something . And there’s no chance (no matter how small) to entice someone with an opposing view to take a step back and ponder on the valid points of the opposite spectrum. As mentioned before, it’s a dead end.

Well and good if your only goal is to irritate and provoke your Facebook and Twitter contacts on the opposite side of the fence until you get muted or blocked. Mission accomplished in that aspect. But as far as opening a discussion to present a stand in a sober and coherent light, it leaves a lot to be desired. Which is a pity, because people tend to learn more on ideas in direct opposition to theirs than from someone with the same opinion.

In a 2018 GRP article Desperately wanted: COMPETENT Opposition bloggers! benign0 wrote:

This is the real reason why “fake news” and “misinformation” spread — because the content produced by this generation’s “influencers” have regressed in boldness and declined in quality and, as a result, have dulled the once-acute bullshit detector of vast swathes of Netizens. In place of boldness and quality is the currency that determines ascendancy in social media: popularity. Unfortunately, the popularity of an idea has never been a good indicator of its validity. Devoid of substance (and enough space to articulate that substance), social media provides a poor platform for intelligent discourse. I join the call-to-action issued today by Dado and, much earlier, by Jimenez. Filipinos need to write more. Today is Jose Rizal Day after all. This Filipino “national hero” wrote a lot and angered a lot of people with his writing. If you are not pissing off someone, you are probably not doing anything important. Write more. Piss people off. Take what you dish out. Do it intelligently. Write on!

Time to ditch those one-dimensional materials done by another person as the sole avenue to express your thoughts and start creating your own content.

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