The old adage "money ruins everything" is almost always true -- that is, unless you're trying to get hired making memes for a political campaign. A story published Sunday, Aug. 6, in The New York Times traces the links between the big money of politics and memes, the shareable photos we have come to love so much. The good news is, if you're an avid meme-maker, now is a good time to add that skill to your résumé.
The sun might be setting on the Golden Age of Memes, and you can direct your blame and hurt feelings toward political donors on both sides of the aisle who are paying professional meme creators to crank out viral political content. The Times story revealed that groups like Occupy Democrats, on the left, and Milo Inc., on the right, are getting big donation dollars to create memes designed to go viral to incite political action or change minds.
It's not news that the digital age, social media especially, has had a profound effect on political outcomes. Thanks to the fact that a majority of users in America get their news from social media, according to the Pew Research Center, these platforms -- and the memes shared on them -- have an outsize potential for garnering political might.
In a paper published this year about social media and fake news in the 2016 election, authors Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow found that "fake news was both widely shared and heavily tilted in favor of Donald Trump."
A BuzzFeed report in 2016 analyzed several "hyperpartisan" social media pages, and shows that the followers for these non-journalism pages outpaces those of traditional media. One of these pages is Right Wing News. One of their memes, posted on July 13, shows former President Barack Obama with his wife, Michelle, and insinuates that Trump's predecessor made "police lives unimportant."
Milo Inc., though it appears to still be in its infancy, is credited with creating the memes featured in the New York Times story. The company apparently launched as an incubator of sorts to promote, well, more people like commentator Milo Yiannopoulous. It's pretty clear what the company's content will look like given that the guy who was banned from Twitter (Yiannopoulous) starts a company built around "making the lives of journalists, professors, politicians, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, and other professional victims a living hell," as quoted in the Los Angeles Times. The article says he'll pull from places like YouTube to find his "talent."
One photo on the Occupy Democrats' Facebook page shows "The Dude," the protagonist from The Big Lebowski, bonding with the viewer over a shared hatred of Trump.
It's enough that memes themselves have been co-opted for political gain, but to invoke the Dude? In my humble opinion, that's one meme too far.
What happened to the good old days, when memes were just a fun thing you made when you were bored on the internet? When they were just a phrase beginning with "One does not simply" slapped onto a classic still from Lord of the Rings?
If these hyperpartisan pages are any indication, the days when memes were perfect because of how simple and meaningless they were are over. And if you're looking to make some dough creating politically charged viral content, here's a new line of work for you.