Engaging young voters in the political discourse is a challenge no New Zealand political party has yet mastered. Could memes save the day? Madeleine Chapman leads a walking tour.
By the age of five, most children are able to recognize sarcasm and recognize it as humor. By the age of ten they can distinguish between sarcastic and ironic humor. And somewhere in the middle, they learn to read memes.
Like language, memes get harder to find as they age. Not everyone is going to look at a picture of Kermit the Frog drinking tea, leaning against a wall, or looking out a rainy window and immediately know it's meant to be funny. Some will simply ask what Kermit the Frog has to do with your friends' couples writing breakup status and then getting back together. Being 23 years old and working in the media, I'm fortunate to have grown up with memes as they evolved. I don't have to learn them. But I have eight older brothers, at least six of whom are only familiar with the most rudimentary form. So if I want to create a meme making fun of one of them and post it in the family group chat, my options are limited to bold images and captions.
It's hard to categorize meme knowledge as a skill, but younger generations certainly seem to pick it up with ease, while older ones only see inferior stock photos.
Like any good meme, let me awkwardly refer to New Zealand politics and the 2017 election. I'm not interested in politics. Until recently, my political frame of reference revolved around the fact that in 2014, the rich white lady whose house I cleaned once a week while I was in college was a staunch supporter of nationalism and, on more than one occasion, a racist. So I voted Labor.
Of course I worry about social problems and how we can solve them, but the language and the nonsense that surrounds any politics only makes me lose interest. Maybe I'm just stupid. If so, then I'm not alone. In the last general election, 64% of 18-24 year olds were eligible to vote and 46% voted. Why New Zealand politics is boring. Not the problems and ideas, but the implementation. Check out the campaign ads. The only reason these ads were showing is becauseThere are memes.
I've occasionally seen a local political meme in my news feed for the past few months. Most of the time I'm not entirely sure of the context of the joke, but just knowing the shape of the meme is enough for me - or anyone else - to figure it out. I tend to laugh at this and move on, not realizing that I'm unwittingly involved in New Zealand politics. If you don't have friends who love good political columns or memes, it's terrifyingly easy to live your life entirely without political discourse. Because of this, political meme sites are more important than anyone realizes, even site administrators.
There are political memes, good or bad, intentional or not, that teach the totally ignorant some basic political knowledge before an election. And that's relative knowledge, because memes are made by young people and their bias towards certain parties is therefore based on common areas of interest of younger generations.
Never heard of the name David Seymour? Don't know what all the fuss about Metiria Turei is about? Don't know who has good guidelines for young people? Browsing through the endless political columns will help with analysis, but political meme sites will do for basic knowledge. Here's a tour of the best of New Zealand.
As the name suggests, these memes do not discriminate. All parties and policies are being targeted, although it appears admins have an ax to grind with Gareth Morgan as the Opportunity Party is dealing with some serious burns. They are also more critical of the left because memes are too easy when their own party is breaking up (Labour, until recently). But in general there is a youthful balance which means everyone is under scrutiny and NZ First sucks.
This meme might not seem very political, but personality plays a big part in politics, and this is a pretty accurate summary of political leader sympathy. An important first step in political engagement is knowing who the hell everyone is. Although the administrators may not appear to be big fans of the national party, they are pragmatic.
I was just assuming Labor would have good immigration policies, but after seeing this meme I decided to look it up (I asked someone at work who knew what they were talking about and explained why it was bad). Political commitment achieved!
Nonpartisan memes never shy away from sweeping generalizations, and they also convey a broad, somewhat crude, idea of what kind of people vote for which parties.
I don't know who runs this site (or any meme site) but unofficially it's a Labor company. Since most young people would be left-leaning, his attacks on the National Act and David Seymour are popular.
The use of "the earth is" instead of the traditional "the soil is" [see above] establishes the following meme as a thoroughly working work, e.g. try to get in contact with young people andfasttraveling. Luckily for them, David Seymour is easily the most memorable MP, so he's still good but still provides important and relevant political information for potential student voters.
Like classic hippie greens, green memes are less judgmental of other parties and more supportive of the likes of Metiria Turei and Chloe Swarbrick. Healthy memes aren't generally as funny as offbeat ones, but as long as the party tends to appeal to younger voters, a little self-love might be a good thing.
But they will continue to hunt the big dogs.
I was very late to this (political) party, but it quickly became my favorite meme site. He doesn't express any political opinions, just combines a verse from Kanye West with a current political story. It's so simple and yet so informative. After gaining popularity in the run-up to the 2014 election, the site went silent and only recently revived. I'm waiting for the text 'Just ruin another career, it's a mild day' above a photograph of the Labor logo and Andrew Little.
In a rare meme move, the images don't work on their own, requiring the caption for context. This brings it a little closer to the real news while still retaining the joy of a saturated meme. it's brilliant
Not all political memes are created equal
Unfortunately for all of us, sometimes you have to wade through really awful memes to find the good stuff. For example, after Jacinda Ardern was named the new Labor leader on Tuesday, Kim Dotcom (former politician lol) shared a horrific uncredited memeits creator Paul Le Comteand Richie Hardcore (young politician) shared a bad meme t-shirt. I myself know that the five people have almost nothing in common except that they are white.
Remember folks, just because it looks well done doesn't mean it makes sense. Sometimes, the worse the meme looks, the funnier it is.
The way we share information is changing rapidly, and while politicians shouldn't necessarily use memes as a means of communication (nothing worse than a dad meme), they should be aware that taking part in youth elections is one different approach required.
Memes are not for old people and certainly not for politicians. As if to prove my point, former Labor leader David Cunliffe just tweeted his approvalBye BillHardness. But memes are the future, whether you find them funny or not, and they're unintentionally teaching "the kids" about politics. So next time you feel like you're a little lost in local politics, visit a meme-friendly site, grab a cool copy, and start scrolling.
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