The Manifesto Built on Memes

There is a particular culture of politics in America, and is one that’s fused with its entertainment industry. Most recently, many people have seen the toxic child of this marriage in the form of President Trump. A reality TV show host, occasional ‘actor’, and a ‘bad businessman’ in his show The Apprentice that, emotionally, reflected his terrible business deals in reality. The merger of these two worlds is not new; Ronald Regan was, of course, a film star and Arnold Schwarzenegger (before he became Governor of California) was, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Before that, even, was Newt Gingrich; a politician that used the installation of C-SPAN cameras hat had just recently been installed in the House to deliver televised diatribes directly to the American people, in a way that has been described as a precursor to the Trump administration: “He would kind of take to the floor at the end of the day when the chamber was basically empty, and he would give these kind of thundering speeches, kind of tirades against the Democrats, that were being delivered to no real audience in the actual room where he was, but that were then being beamed out to televisions across the country. He found that the more provocative he was and the more angry he was, the more likely his speeches were to get picked up in the news.” 

This isn’t only happening in America. Currently, the forerunner in the Ukrainian elections is Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a politically inexperienced comedian notable for playing a politically inexperienced person running for the presidency of Ukraine. He is almost 15 percentage points ahead of the incumbent president according to the polls, with many of his supporters voting for the first time. Zelenskiy is, it seems, libertarian; that is, his politics aren’t based on the right-wing notion to capitalise on a divided nation, but also cannot be described as particularly leftist either. Nevertheless, through his use of social media and young voter base - many of which had not voted before - he has risen to the top. His potency as a politician is tied inexplicably to his television program and, more than Donald Trump, the irony that it is a program reflecting exactly what is happening now. The ties between entertainment and politics established, the obvious should be acknowledged: entertainment is changing. Media giants are competing with teenagers on YouTube, established publications trade retweet numbers with random accounts on Twitter. And as entertainment changes, so does politics. In the United States’ upcoming 2020 elections, there is distinct support for Andrew Yang - a leftist candidate running on Medicare-for-All, universal basic income, and investments in renewable energy.


The memes are rampant. Having risen in popularity after being on the Joe Rogan Experience, Yang’s young supporters (or the Yang Gang) are brought in from both sides of the political spectrum. American leftists support him, for obvious reasons, but Trump voters are also bring brought into the fold after being swayed by the Presidents’ ineffectual policies. As one ex-Trump supporter put it:

“Memes are almost everything. Ideas that are true, obvious once named, and are simply communicated are going to win. Memes are a huge part of the culture, almost the only real folk art we have at this point. You won’t be able to control this, you will have difficulty even directing it. Get used to the chaos, and learn to shit post.”

“Get used to the chaos” is a strong summary of the current state of politics, especially in a world connected to such a great extent (even the rise in nationalism is described as a global rise in nationalism.) The democratisation of entertainment and entrepreneurship, because of the various incarnations of creators on YouTube and Instagram and the now-deceased Vine, means the established hierarchy of voices that would distinguish experts with the vox populi has broken down. This is reinforced, not by further competition, but by the way the competition is presenting itself. “Lol so random” humour began in 2004 and perhaps hit its peak in 2005 (or whenever Elon Musk tweets). While employing off-the-wall non-sequiturs, or unrelated actions, to get a few cheap laughs eventually wore out, that connection to the ludicrous, to things that could never happen in real life, paved the way for the popular, nihilistic humour that has taken control of culture through shows like BoJack Horseman, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or The Eric Andre Show. And now that we’ve seen how things that could never happen in real life happen in real life, the possibility of what tomorrow might bring is both liberating and terrifying.

Photo: Youtube/bugsy quotes

“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's going to die, come watch TV.” - Morty Smith, Rick and Morty.

It has to be understood that there is no going back. For established politicians - the ones that have been bound into ineffectuality by TV series such as House of Cards and The Thick of It through the same machinations that spurred the fringes on - this is the new battleground. Chaotic thought, such as flat Earth documentaries, is being presented as must-see television or YouTube videos; and eventually, when you watch that stuff for so long, you start to believe it yourself. We’ve seen repeatedly that politicians don’t properly know how to engage with culture, but unless they start to now - and accept that life is beginning, finally, to imitate art - we will remain chaotic without control. What matters isn’t what’s right or wrong any more. What matters is what’s entertaining.

Article by Adam Smith. Keep up with Adam via his Twitter



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