I saw a meme the other day of a swimming pool called “The Pandemic Pool”.
In the pool, there is a doting mother, arms are wide open stretched out, ready to come into an embrace with a little child who is ready to jump in and swim safely to mummy. The doting mother is the government and the child is large corporations.
To the side, in the pool, is another child struggling to stay afloat, and looking like they’re about to take their last cup before drowning. The drowning child, is small businesses.
Because the picture is snapped with the new age phones, which can go into water and not need rice and continue to work just fine, under the water is a human skeleton, weighed down by what appears to be an anchor, stuck at the bottom of the water. The skeleton represents the musicians and entertainers.
Before I go into an analysis of the meme described above, perhaps we must position memes in political discourse. Why should we even think of photos with letters as important enough to spend five minutes of your time engaging? Well, humour has been used as a tool to criticise and stand against oppression for many years. Political humour has been a significant part of political discourse in society, helping the formation of opinions in politics, for people who are not actively political.
Political cartoons have been a real part of our daily lives as they appear in many print publications. Political cartoons are a type of editorial cartoon, which are a graphic with caricatures of public, usually political figures, expressing the artist’s opinion.
Similar to political cartoons, memes are a newly adopted cultural way of cartooning present situations, in the ways that capture the reality with some humour.
They are to social media what political cartoons are to print media. Essentially, political commentary has evolved and is accessible to us. Memes are the contemporary expression of that evolution. Yes, they are funny! But they hold the collective truths of our time. The main components of a meme are humour and satire.
By definition, a meme, derived from mimeme, a word coined by Richard Dawkins, is defined as a unit of cultural information, as a concept, belief or practice, that spreads from one person to another in a similar ways to genes.
In their present use, they’re primarily an image, video, or piece of text, usually funny in nature, which is copied and spread rapidly to internet users, usually with slight variations.
They are a significant form of civic participation, noting that there is a direct relationship between politics and popular culture. I give this background to validate and legitimise memes.
Now to explain their utility in socio-political discourse, memes have gained prominence in a similar sense to political cartoons, in the age of digital technology. Memes
For digital natives, they are also a primary source of information, as we often read news on the basis of the memes formed from it.
A personal example is that I found out about the third lockdown through a meme shared by a WhatsApp contact. The meme was a short gif of a child probably of six or seven years, covered in ash, and throwing themselves to the ground, throwing a tantrum. The caption was something to the effect of “Oh No! Not Lockdown again!” That led me to the online search of the announcement of the third lockdown, which followed the announcement of a new surge of COVID-19 cases in Botswana.
Similar to opinion pieces, memes can create opinions in the minds of people. At their worst, they have been used of course for the spreading of propaganda to reinforce ideologies identities and harmful stereotypes.
At their best, they are a way some have learnt to share the news, as well as political concerns with younger generations, who have absolutely no time to read lengthy texts with no images. Memes have driven interest as well as influence towards voting. In essence, memes have become social or cultural capital.
Back to “The Pandemic Pool”: the image of the pool itself suggests an understanding that we really are all in this mess together! Same time! One time! The struggles are real.
The limitations, theoretically take on similar forms. It appears, however, from the meme that government seems to continue to thrive in the pool.
Government is able to stand in the water with half her upper body out. Chances of her drowning are slim to none. Government will survive this. Large corporations know to expect the support of the government through their struggles.
Tenders are awarded with alleged backhanders, but everyone well positioned in capitalism, will end up safe, through their “strong and influential” networks. Small businesses, despite the new CEDA regulations, will likely not survive.
Many of them have already sunk, while others are struggling to stay afloat and accused of charging from their frustrations. It is the musicians and artists I am most concerned about. Artists are the pulse of any country! They are the reflection of our times. In this season, they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic interventions.
Of course there are creative ways to monetise the current struggle. They speak the language that first appeals to the youth – art. We cannot afford to be the generation within which our artists suffered the most.
This piece sheds light on contemporary media or artforms to convey current affairs. At the bottom of the pandemic pool, are artists and young people.