Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you most likely have logged on to some form of social media only to be bombarded with memes about the US elections. Whether it was jokes about the US one-upping Brexit or Obama and Biden’s warm fuzzy friendship, for many, the shock of Trump’s success resulted in disbelief expressed in the form of memes.
The nature of a meme is to represent human responses like sarcasm and cynicism in a humorous way, however, they are much more than that; they are a running commentary on contemporary society, reflecting popular culture and capturing the zeitgeist. They sum up what someone is feeling in a comical, ironic way and can contain heavy, philosophical content about the world. Most of all, they are relatable – which is why they appeal to the audience so much.
Over a cup of burnt coffee, my friend and I were discussing meme culture as a collective form of modern art and how it carries the essence of a contemporary form of Dadaism. Dada arose in response to the dominant culture, to be oppositional and emergent. It rejected traditional art ideas of beauty and structure, instead focusing on the manipulation of images and creating statement artwork that reflected a post-World War One society. While the artwork looked rather strange, chaotic and like a bunch of scrapbooked nonsense, it reflected cultural issues and displayed compositions that contained various social and political statements represented through symbolism.
Thus we can see how modern meme culture has similar ideas to the Dada movement; it reflects the prevailing emotions of society as they are influenced by change. By following the style of poorly photoshopped images, anyone can create imagery and while it may not be aesthetically pleasing, credit must be given for creativity. This new form of “anti-art” is a visual communication specifically confined to Internet culture. Memes are supposed to be reusable and reconstructable (much like the aesthetic of Dada) until the idea becomes old and dies; thus the lifecycle of a meme is short and sweet to keep up with the flux of society.
In this technological age, everyone is an artist; active not just in consuming popular culture, but by having the power to create and shape it as well. Memes are made by the people, for the people; to reply, reblog, and repost at will.