The world has changed since when I met you last,
Forces have gathered, grown and made their mark,
Meme magic brewed an unsavoury broth,
and left us Trump – God-Emperor of Earth.
Oh, and also I became an editor at The Student.
Mid-November, and the semester nears the close. All in all, a middling success. A social life exists and I’ve managed to avoid dropping off the gradar.
While chaos reigns on the political front, we can find comfort in the set of sterling new releases in music, with Childish Gambino, Run the Jewels and The xx all dropping singles in the immediate aftermath of the result. One thing about studying literature is that it allows one to live in the past to some extent; I’m currently in the shelter of the pre-Revolution 18th century certainty.
To “live in the past” is often seen as a negative thing – an accusation exasperatedly tossed at an adversary expressing perhaps too traditional views – but I can see the positives. Take the current time, where the prevailing mind-set is to ignore facts and seek simple “solutions” to complex problems – is it not now more than ever that is need of a classical, pragmatic rationale we can find in antiquity and Enlightenment thought?
Counter to this is the idea that criticises those on the emerging “alt-right”, to coin phrase that’s getting a rather inordinate and inaccurate level of mintage of late, for hearkening to a prior Golden Age. Make America Great Again, Take Back Control. The problem with this is that what they are nostalgic for did not exist in the form it takes in their heads; whilst it may have been good for some, others – minorities for example – did not share in the prosperity.
I think I’ll be lecturing to the converted in the most part here, which is again a part of the problem – the echo chamber effect. The feedback loop of a reaffirming meme community.
What’s the solution then? Ban memes? That would be absurd and almost certainly lead to riots.
Unfortunately, the internet is a democracy, and sometimes democracy stinks. Memes also demand an extremist position – they facilitate the kind of content that will confirm a pre-existing belief, too outrageous to be expressed in polite conversation. Yes, there’s the alt-right, where an ironic veneration of historical absolutists and autocrats turned into something genuine somewhere down the line – but the left is hardly exempt. Pages such as Sassy Socialist, or Cool Corbyn Memes promote the slaughter of the bourgeoisie on a daily basis and praise Mao and Stalin with a hazy sense of irony. No one is going to create an account called Maverick Moderate Memes – the likes simply aren’t there.
Am I placing too much emphasis on memes? Of course I am, I’m an out-of-touch metropolitan millennial. Most people exist on a “normie” plane, where memes are literal. A few, like me, occupy a zone where the ironic holds most appeal. A stage higher and we reach the zen-like state of the post-ironic – a dangerous position masterfully balanced by only the sagest of scrollers; it was here, precariously perched on the pinnacle of peak saturation that the alt-righters fell from nirvana into the swampy depths they are now so desperate to drain. But to get real – for a considerable chunk of the population, memes live on the fringes of their lives; a banal and incomprehensible distraction.
Demographic change, the impact of which I am becoming increasingly aware, is perhaps a neglected factor in today’s landscape. It is easy to see why publications such as The Guardian might try to blame these “shocking” results on a rogue internet subculture – this absolves them and places culpability in the hands of an imagined community lacking the resources to launch a rebuttal. It also gives them a right to celebrate a victory that in reality had little to do with them. Gone are the days of the closed nation state with its protectionist economics and homogenous populations, however there is a significant chunk of the population who remember them, and they vastly outnumber the young. Unfortunately, in a democracy, power lies with the majority, and for the foreseeable future expect to see policy geared to a retiring, white, capitalist-cradling clientele.