In the olden days, Britain’s newspapers were powerful mouthpieces for the nation’s political parties and they delivered mostly accurate and important information to the everyday British voter. What they wrote was gospel to the paying public and in some ways, they truly held the keys to Number 10. Since the advent of television, things changed a bit and well, it all went a bit to shit. With the papers now having to compete with consumer culture and crap TV, clearly all bets are off and you can print just about whatever you like in order to get people to vote the way you want. Last year could even be described as a new low when the print media used all sorts of tactics in the EU referendum in order to influence the vote.
Fast forward to 2017 and we’ve now got online clickbait and fake news influencing elections. Perhaps it’s little wonder then, that many of us have turned to a new form of online campaigning in order to get clued up about politics.
I am of course, talking about memes. And this is how they came to dominate politics in 2017...
The UK election was the latest saga in what some people have dubbed the ongoing global meme war, taking place on the battlefields of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp groups around the world. It featured in Donald Trump’s victory last year and also played a part in unofficial online campaigning in this year’s French election. For the first time however, memes, which come in a wide range of formats, hit the shores of the United Kingdom during an election cycle and were utilised by both sides of the political spectrum.
Policies and Brexit definitely played a part in the highest youth turnout at a General Election since 1992, however it’s not nuts to suggest that because we spend a lot of time on our phones and…well, yes, looking at memes… that it’s helped get more young people involved in politics.
The age of the meme began slowly, around ten years ago and still to this day, their shithousery is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives. Whilst memes are just online gags, this year we saw them become a campaign tool used by any old joker to try and convince a few pals to vote the same way as them.
You see, a crucial part of meme culture is the fact that young people’s opinions, views and even jokes are rarely represented in the press. But what we do get involved in is online culture and election memes were a small protest at what some people see as the elitist and stuffy media.
So when the election opened up, so did people’s opinions and it was memes that many young people turned towards to get informed about the issues. These days, anyone with a smartphone can produce their own campaign material and share it with the world. This is unofficial, vigilante campaigning but in reality politicians don’t really care so long as their message is getting across.
After the manifestos were launched a fresh wave of material was dumped on us, like the world’s most disappointing book release. Memes added a new level of public scrutiny to this year’s election, playing the role of Jeremy Paxman for the millennial masses. Interestingly, there never seems to be a surplus or a lack of demand for memes. Memes seem to be the perfect business model if you ask me. It’s remarkable. The cult of Corbyn grew after the manifesto launch and it seemed that his good guy image was something that really resonated with people and influenced a number of memes.
Memes allowed even the most unlikely of political commentators to chip in on the election. Football accounts on Twitter waded into the election to promote Corbyn’s comeback – something akin to Liverpool’s 2005 Champion's League comeback. The election had become ‘in’, like a cool new trend that everyone wanted to be talking about. A football reporter in the media wouldn’t dream of quipping about the election in a newspaper article but memes gave the election an entertaining and infectious edge.
Social media and modern pop culture has truly shaken up how elections are fought on the ground. When Grime for Corbyn came along, the election had peaked. Jeremy Corbyn rapping policies along to Stormzy’s ‘Shut Up’ shows how unofficial, bitesize campaigns are now a big part of online youth politics.
Just before election day, a little comment May made in a pre-recorded ITV interview sent the nation crazy. Britain went wheat mad. What the Prime Minister had said suggested that she was about as dry as a day-old Weetabix and it was memes that truly kept the joke going and perhaps even affected her election chances.
Quite simply, by election day, we had been treated to a whirlwind of emotions. We had laughed, cried and got angry at our politicians - and that was just because of some memes dumped on the internet. The unconventional online world had painted an election in a new light, perhaps akin to the first election covered on television. So, to believe that viral online content cannot swing elections and increase turnout in today’s world is foolish. Twitter and Facebook allow everyone to be a political pundit and this election, with its very strong and stable memes, proved to be an election which will rewrite the campaigning rule book. There are very influential memes out there for the many and no longer just the few.