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[OPINION] How memes distract and destruct

Based on the number of satirical memes being shared daily on Facebook, we can definitely say that politics and memes are now intertwined. 

Memes are usually shared to make people laugh. Lately, however, there have been an increasing number of memes that bear a political context. And since the nature of memes conflicts with the seriousness needed in political discourse, the degree to which memes should be discerned must be put forward. 

Meme culture

Meme culture has brought an alternative way to comprehend political discussions; the practice provides a concrete means of engaging in the political sphere. 

For example, Senator Bong Go would always post pictures with President Duterte, so some people are quick to make variations of these photos that are entertaining and nonsensical, implying what they think of the senator and president’s relationship. 

Another example: Vice President Leni Robredo recently tweeted “lols” in response to a news report on Bongbong Marcos’ 2016 poll protest, and this resulted mostly in memes and replies that show support for the VP. Even the VP, clearly, is using slang to relate more to the public. 

Some people think they are apolitical, and that they are only passively reacting to these political memes, but they fail to realize that simply engaging with these memes is already political in essence. The very act of translating the politicians’ actions into memes then sharing it, or choosing the type of memes to engage with, can already sum up what one’s standpoint is. 

This begs the question: what are the true intentions behind the shares and reactions? Is it truly because people want to criticize the government, or are they simply drawn to its comic features?

The limits of the meme

Through meme aesthetics, discussions about political issues and current affairs are easier to understand and digest. But it also tends to limit one’s questioning, for it neglects perceptive thinking.

To a certain extent, memes do help in increasing awareness. They help amplify issues and reveal the realities of certain practices and personalities.  They pave a new way for people to participate in political discussions, given the stereotype that politics means seriousness and exclusivity. 

However, memes also lead to oversimplification, confining matters to just 280 characters and reaction buttons. Moreover, they have also become a strategy used by politicians and other entities to improve public relations or spread misinformation and propaganda, to distract people from addressing the real issues at hand. We fail to realize that this kind of habit has been institutionalized, has shaped our ideologies, and, in many ways, has destroyed the practice of  proper analysis.

Taking caution

Politics is something that should not be taken lightly, especially now amid the pandemic. The current circumstances have taken a toll on us, which means we need to be conscious of what is happening. 

In a world where fake news is rampant, the use of memes also endangers credibility and  proactivity. Our political stance should not depend on what we see on social media – much less in memes. We have a responsibility to take a stand for what is right and abolish the practice of misinformation.

But if through memes we are able to transform people's ways and perceptions, we should at least make sure that we are able to portray accurate and relevant information in order to generate well-informed political standpoints. –

Amita Avestruz and Denise Morelos are students at Ateneo de Manila University, majoring in Political Science.