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The power of memes

The power of memes

The power of memes
February 25
16:05 2021

With the recent debacle over GameStop stock, mainstream America is seeing once again the incredible power of internet memes. This is neither the first nor last time we’ve seen the great impact that goofy online slang, pictures, videos and so on can have on economic and social institutions, and this instance continues to show in how memes have the power to influence society.

While this may be a funny idea, this must not be understated: memes have the power to bring about great social and political change in this nation. GameStop and Wall Street are not the first time we have seen this. We saw this first in the 2016 election. Surrounding Trump’s campaign were very strong, influential online outlets that constantly made memes in support of his presidential bid: from r/The_Donald on Reddit, to /poll/ on 4chan, to an avalanche of meme videos on YouTube showing Trump as action movie characters like the Terminator and Leonidas. Memes were at the heart of the popular movement behind Trump in 2016. The people pushing the memes knew it too. After the election, the common chant on 4chan was “we elected a meme as president.” The role that memes played in Trump’s electoral victory was critical.

We see the power of memes even more in the battle between r/WallStreetBets, another subreddit forum, and the Wall Street giant Melvin Capital. The main fighter on the side of the little guy is the aforementioned subreddit, which is not made up of serious investors who are trying to make smart investments in the stock market. It is primarily a meme subreddit with its own unique terminology and subculture. A common thread in this subreddit is that people will post “loss porn” taking screenshots of their losses in playing bets in the stock market. They have their own lingo, calling the users who can make money in the stock market “chads” while everyone else is called “autists.” When people post their investing opinions on the thread, oftentimes they’ll end their posts with some variation of “I’m not a financial advisor, I’m an autist.” This cannot be overstated: a bunch of trolls on Reddit just cost Wall Street a lot of money.

The impact of memes should not be surprising. The term was first coined by Richard Dawkins to explain how ideas and cultural phenomenon spread. Memes spread like wildfire. If you want some idea or information to get out into the public arena quickly, there is no better way to do that than through a viral meme. Not only do they spread quickly, but they are also unitive. When people share a meme, they normally do so either because they like the meme and identify with it in some way and want others to join in on its enjoyment, or they disagree with it and want people to join in on hating it. Memes are effective in getting ideas out there quickly and they are effective in bringing people together around the ideas which they spread.

Given this, not only is it unsurprising that memes have such a large effect on society, but their effect should also be carefully examined. If you want to predict the next big political movement or the next big cultural revolution, look at the memes that are being disseminated. The internet is the new public square, and if trends are to be anticipated the public square needs to be understood. Understanding the power of memes not only allows us to predict political and social trends, but it allows us to take an active role in these political and social events. We can subvert movements that are damaging to society, join ones that are helpful and need to gain steam and begin our own movements when we don’t see important issues being addressed.

The GameStop vs. Melvin Capital debacle was another show of the unadulterated social and political strength that memes and the people who make memes wield. Over a week, a gaggle of Reddit trolls did more to bring revolution to Wall Street than the Occupy Movement was ever able to do. We need to look at this and recognize the immense power which memes have so that we can anticipate new movements, start new movements and play an active role in this new medium of activism and social organization.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Jackson Sweet

Jackson Sweet

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