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Thoughts on meme culture and the legacy media

By Scott Tibbs, March 16, 2018

As long as people have been posting on forums, website comments, blogs, social media, and personal web sites, there have been memes. Memes have been prominent for the last five elections, so why is the legacy news media suddenly worried about them? Did they only notice the "destructive" (guffaw!) nature of memes on now that we have a President who likes memes?

Let me tell you a dirty little secret. Memes are the modern equivalent of editorial cartoons. The legacy media is not worried about memes because they oversimplify or cheapen debate. If that were the case, they would not publish editorial cartoons. The legacy media is worried about memes because their monopoly on editorial cartoons is gone. They are angry that some "nobody" on Twitter can create a silly meme that goes viral, bringing them fifteen minutes of fame despite not having a journalism degree.

Let's go back to political cartoons. They generally make a very simple point with a picture and text. They certainly cannot go into as detailed of an argument as a six hundred word column, or explore as many aspects of an issue as a five thousand word investigative piece. Yet they have been published since before these United States existed. Why? Because they are funny, and because satire is often effective.

Are there bad things about memes? Yes, memes are bad when they convey blatantly false information and doctored photos designed to smear someone's reputation. But let's be real here: Nobody changes their vote based on memes. If I see a meme ridiculing someone I support, it does not make me change my mind. If I am undecided in a primary, a meme (or a thousand memes) will not sway my vote.

What memes do is take the air out of arrogant elitists. When someone creates a meme of Donald Trump beating up someone with the CNN logo over his head, it lets the air out of the puffed-up, entitled legacy media. The one thing an elitist cannot stand is being mocked by someone he considers his "inferior," which is why CNN became so deranged in the aftermath of that viral meme.

Here's my tip to the legacy media: Chill out and relax. When you hyperventilate over the role of memes in our political culture, you demonstrate you are both out of touch and hypocritical. (Remember, editorial cartoons are memes.) When you become hysterical because a meme ridicules you, you invite more ridicule and mockery, as CNN found out last summer.