When a Meme Goes into Politics

I love a good meme. But it’s not just me: the number of people enjoying a good meme is on the rise. Hell, even my 52-year-old Dad has an entire folder on his iPad dedicated to memes he saves for his Facebook comments.

I love memes for a wide variety of reasons, but one of the big ones is that they’re really good at summarising complex topics in a very accessible way. Got a weird feeling about a character on your favourite TV show? There’s a meme for that. Feeling shit about the fact that you’ll never own a house because they’re stupidly expensive? There’s definitely a meme for that.

While I’m definitely not advocating that all memes are good, they can be very functional.

Politics and memes

One of my favourite crossovers is politics and memes. Our attention is so finite that we are more attracted to ideas that are easily-consumable ideas that don’t require a whole lot of thought. When you think about it, memes and politics work really well together.

Another contributor for The Isthmus made the argument that political memes shouldn’t serve as our only source of political information, which he’s absolutely right about. But this doesn’t mean they’re not useful.  

Not only is there always enough content for a super spicy meme, but memes effectively make complex politics reasonably understandable. So, when you’re a passive voter trying to figure out who to vote for and you’re racking your brain for anything political, you might think about the plethora of memes that came out of the recent #libspill.

Just to clarify: my argument isn’t that political memes are the best source of political opinions. They merely start a conversation; once that seed is planted, instead of seeing that SBS article as “just mind-numbing politics”, people might be a little more likely to flick through the political news.

Political memes can be done right. One of my favourite examples is the ALP Spicy Meme Stash. They post daily memes about current events happening in the political sphere that are really something else.

While they are super biased towards the Australian Labor Party, they make/steal great content that achieves the ultimate goal of a political meme: to start a conversation.

When political memes function in this way, they’re golden. But what happens when a really shit politician jumps on the meme train in an attempt to become more relatable?

Short answer: a shit storm.

Enter the meme himself, Clive Palmer

In Clive Palmer’s first political rodeo, he was known for leading a minority party that was fairly conservative. He and his party supported economic policies that encouraged trickle-down economics *eye roll* while opposing abortion proposals and rejecting proposals to stop climate change *mega eye roll*. While his policies sucked, he was seen as just another boring political character. He was seen as just another politician in a suit with pockets that fit more cash than my Creative Industries-ass will see in a lifetime.

Then his world came tumbling down. His businesses were failing left and right and basically everyone had a reason to sue him. He quickly dropped out of politics to get his business life sorted. In the meantime, he went through a bit of a rebrand. He shed 60kg and started upping his social media game.

This lead to a stream of ridiculous content that captured the attention of our beautiful, meme-loving generation. Some honourable mentions include the nonsensical Facebook and Twitter poems:

And who could forget the Facebook group, the self-titled “Palmy Army” dedicated to shit-posting about the joys of being a walking meme.

Do people actually fall for this shit? Apparently so, seeing as 13,000 people like the page. It’s difficult to guess about how many people joined out of the pure joy they get from shit-posting or if they really love the guy and his policies because of the memes.

But what I can say is that this shit is dangerous. As Teen Vogue pointed out, Trump has retweeted a few memes that are pretty much propaganda. However, it can be argued that people easily see through Trump’s tweets as he’s known for being a chronic bullshitter. However, the real danger arises when politicians are clever enough to disguise that bullshit with a rebrand.

When shit-posting crosses the line

Politicians like Clive Palmer use the art of a good rebrand to make people forget about their problematic past. When this political meme goes too far, it potentially has the power to make this asshat actually seem relatable.

Voters appreciate a human touch from a political candidate, and while Clive’s poems definitely show his softer side, they also hide his awful policies really well. This isn’t by chance; Clive knows that if every voter knew about his problematic past, there’s no way his party would be revived in the next federal election.

In a bid to take back his seat, he’s moving the image of the party away from the shitty reality into the shit-posting Twittersphere. The crazier they are, the more polarising they are, which means that when people think of Clive Palmer, they think of that crazy tweet of his that was being passed around.

Clive Palmer is more than just that loose unit uncle at the family Christmas party. He has cost thousands of people millions of dollars, has rejected legislation that would legalise abortion and is still ruining the environment with his mining ventures. To put it bluntly, he’s a political madman. But now that he’s rebranded himself as a funny, relatable guy, it’s possible that more people will vote for him based on his meme-ability instead of his policies. And that’s a scary thought.

How Clive could’ve gotten it right

If you’ve made a few mistakes in your career, the best way you can handle it is to own it. In fact, if politicians answer the hard questions about their mistakes earnestly and don’t attempt to hide them, public trust in the politician/party has been found to increase. In short: owning your mistakes is a good move, but shit-posting them isn’t.

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