Full disclosure: I love memes. Love. I will often answer a text with a meme. (And gifs ― God, I love gifs.) I have ― on many occasions ― laughed out loud to the point of tears at a meme I’ve seen on Facebook. I have shared memes with friends who share my irreverent sense of humor countless times. Memes are hilarious. Memes are clever.
Memes aren’t getting us anywhere.
There aren’t any words to describe the complex emotions I’ve dealt with since that fateful day in November when Donald Trump became our president-elect. Sadness, denial, frustration, fear… all of these and more. And the memes, they are plentiful. I see people participating in dialogue about important issues using memes. Kermit the Frog sipping a martini as a way of debating women’s rights. Willy Wonka giving the side-eye about immigration policy. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby mocking the new cabinet selections.
During the election season, it didn’t cross my mind that memes were doing any real harm. When I saw Grumpy Cat making fun of my liberal brethren, I scrolled past with an eye-roll. A picture of a hippie with long dreadlocks who was easily offended didn’t bother me much. It was because I thought we had this election in the bag. The memes represented a teeny, tiny, dying part of the population that didn’t see things the way I saw them. I thought I was on the winning side of the argument.
But I wasn’t. For better or worse, the election was lost. And the despair that followed put things in a new light for me. Suddenly the memes were low blows, posted by people who didn’t understand me or the things that matter to me. Worse, they didn’t want to understand me or the things that matter to me. It was a way of hiding behind a fake dialogue. Comedy meant to diffuse, shut down conversation, end all real discourse with a zinger.
Do I see the hypocrisy? Yes. I see it clearly. If it were appropriate to apologize on behalf of all the people who posted memes making fun of Republicans using the Most Interesting Man in the World, I would. But as all of us process this new reality via social media, there comes a point where counting meme-for-meme who’s been the most made fun of becomes a fruitless effort. Forward is the only direction we’re moving.
Let’s, as I tell my young children when they are frustrated, use our words to process this. And when we don’t have words, let’s listen. That way, we can save memes for what they are supposed to be used for: sharing pictures of Ryan Gosling saying, “Hey Girl. I like how you engage in important conversations with people who don’t agree with you while respecting their opinion. You’re setting a good example for the world.”