Over my life, I have been especially susceptible to many typical ‘phases’. As a child, I was an eager ‘Pot Head’, following the adventures of the golden trio in the Harry Potter series. As a pre-teen, I was content to be babysat after school by the exploits of Disney Channel characters. During my teen years, I was tragically cursed with a softcore, yet very real, emo phase. By the time I arrived on Otago’s campus I was not quite a Potter-less, Miley-less, eyeliner-less blank canvas, but I nevertheless endeavoured to take my place in the world. Now evicted from the comfortable womb of childhood, I was convinced that I was a Proper Adult and done with phases. Little did I know I was only a matter of months away from embarking my the greatest one yet:
After a year of attempting to make it on your own, you have begun to feel disenfranchised from your humble middle class upbringing*. You are now aware enough of the world to feel enraged by the Capitalist Establishment Inequality Machine™; but you are not quite ready to fight it while you benefit from it (shout-out to Studylink).
It is innocent enough. I am a politics major so this lowkey ideology has suited me just fine. I am not about to claim that my next phase in life is genuine Marxist indoctrination, but I will make the case that memes are paving the way for this flavour of socio-economic enlightenment for our generation and the generations to come.
I recently liked a page on Facebook called Sassy Socialist Memes and was greeted with the following image:
Exhibit A: An oppressive capitalist force attempts to rob the working class of their labour
It was entertaining enough to click to the next meme. And the next one. And the one following.
It took only a few minutes for my inner Meme Connoisseur to begin hoarding them on my laptop in their own special folder, for later laughs. It was during this process that I stopped seeing the surface-level funnies and actually began thinking about the Marxist ideology it references. Exhibit A is funny because it references the trend of absolutely-anything-relating-to-Bee-Movie. But it also makes a concise summary of one of Karl Marx’s (the founding father of socialism as we know it) claims that labourers are commodities who are enslaved by the bourgeois class. In Marx’s view, capitalists are Bee Movie’s beekeepers, enslaving the working class bees and reaping the honey of their labour.
Exhibit B: Class-conscious bees seizing back the means of production
I later stumbled across this gem on the same Facebook page. It is a much more on-the-nose nod to the teachings of Karl Marx and, at the time of writing, this lengthier example had reaped 10,000 fewer reactions than Exhibit A. There could be many reasons for this. I would argue that its more in-depth insight into Marxist economic policy is to blame. However, those Sassy Socialist Meme consumers may very well have taken the time to read it all. And should any of those readers be a second-year socialist like me, they may be rather swayed by those words.
Exhibit C: Sweet and Simple
But savvy 21st century socialists don’t need to rely on bee memes alone to get their message across. It is just as effective to keep up-to-date with the online world, and join the bandwagon of whichever meme is most relevant. Nor do these memes need to be ideology-heavy to be popular.
Exhibit D: #RelatableMeme
Of course, most of their posts are a bit more insightful than a meme with a five-word caption. Exhibit D is one of my favourites for the simple fact that I have been in this exact social predicament. Only, I pushed send.
Exhibit E: An Educational Tool?
On the other hand, maybe I am overthinking this? For all I know the page is purely satirical. I therefore put my POLS215 hat on and embarked on a bit of investigative journalism. I sent their Facebook page two questions.
As it is a two-year-old page and is nearing one million likes, my hopes weren’t too high for a response. Fortunately, they were pretty speedy, and, after promptly asking me if I was writing “anything like that terrible Vice [article],”** a page admin answered the following:
Q1: Do you believe that memes could pave the path to genuine Marxist indoctrination?
Answer: They could, depending on how good they are.
Q2: Do you think socialist memes (especially the sassy ones) can be considered an educational tool?
Answer: Yes, but it all depends on quality. If it's a shitty pun or a cheap gag, there's not much educational content.
Short and sweet, they both support the theory that memes have a certain level of influence. Doubtless the extent of this influence simply varies from person to person.
Exhibit F: Memes Are Power
Perhaps taking memes to heart is a niche phenomenon. Nevertheless, for those it influences it is an educational tool. Exhibit F certainly reiterates the self-awareness that Sassy Socialist Memes has. If pages like these openly acknowledge this, should that make us discerning meme consumers more vigilant, or more open-minded to what they have to say?
Whatever your opinion is, I am yet to meet or be personally indoctrinated into genuine Marxism by memes alone. I have certainly learned a bit more about it than I have otherwise picked up by osmosis during my years at university. I am confident that I will continue to like these memes and maintain my current levels of second year socialism. But to all you comrades out there, maybe seizing the memes of production is the next step for future establishment change?
* Humble middle-class upbringing not mandatory.
** The article in question can be found by following this link: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/how-meme-culture-is-getting-teens-into-marxism