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Kim N. Bernardino

Mr. Francis Sollano

English 12

20 May 2017

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Vote for Pedro: Memes and its importance to creating political statements

Aside from being social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr also have

something in common: memes. These days, memes have become a staple in each of the

aforementioned websites. May it be an old rage comic, an antisemitism meme, or a Duterte

one, more memes are getting viral in social media, yet they only stay and spread on the same

communities in the same social media sites and usually does not reach the rest of the internet

(Bauckhage 49). This just goes to show that even if there is a select environment that memes

live in, over time, memes have become an important part to the internet and the society,

considering the fact that a lot of people have accounts in these sites. Although people know

the concept of meme as the form of image that would contain humorous statements, it was

not created possessing that definition. One can say that memes have evolved by definition—

from biological to digital. Richard Dawkins first coined the term “memes” in his book The

Selfish Gene in 1976, saying that the “meme” is an “idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or

a unit of imitation (192).” To further elaborate his definition, he used tunes, catch-phrases—

any idea as memes that would grow as it passes from one brain to another. It is much like a

gene that spreads from body to body, except this is cultural spread of idea, not a physical one.

However, in 2010, Patrick Davison now defines memes, or widely known at present as

internet memes, on his essay The Language of Internet Memes as “a piece of culture,

typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission” (122). This is similar to

Dawkins’ definition to how the meme culturally spreads from one person to another through

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the form of an idea, but this Davison defines it in the online context — by different visual

forms that can be seen in the internet. With this, one can already see the similarities in

definition between Dawkins’ and Davison’s, and how the biological definition is still present

in the popular definition of memes. Also in his essay, Davison also developed a framework to

deconstruct and analyze memes, which is to look into the “ideal, behavior, and manifestation”

that a meme provides. His framework discussed about how the ideal is the concept that is

being conveyed to the viewers of the meme. With this comes the behavior which is dictated

by the creator of the meme and how s/he is going to create a meme based on the ideal using

the digital tools provided. The end product of this is the meme itself, the manifestation, which

contains the ideal and the behavior (123). However, even with the existence of this

framework, internet meme, for Börzsei, is still a “highly subjective concept” because of its

availability for people to create or edit memes, enabling them to put their own thoughts in it

(4). But aside from the evolution by definition, memes have also grown in form. Since the

rise of the internet, memes have become increasingly prevalent in today’s generation because













technological developments. Since people can easily access and edit these, memes have also

become multimodal in terms of form. According to Börzsei, the first known internet meme

could have been the use of keyboard emoticons, used mainly to serve as a alternative to

express emotions (emotions in icons) in online communication aside from using words. Now,

memes can be in the form of text-on-image, image on top of video, GIFs, etc. which will

appear in the latter part of the paper (Börzsei 5).

There is a growing number of people that continues to produce and share memes, and

together with the prevalence of more social media sites are more open doors for ways to

make memes known. As an introduction, there is a propagation of pages in Facebook devoted

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to share memes and sometimes, a specific kind of memes, such as Classical Art Memes, Dank

Memes Melt Steel Beams, and even Ateneo’s Ateneo Ageless Memes. Memes remain popular

because of the people who manage the content of these pages, the people who create these

memes, and the discourse it brings to the people; thus, it contributes to the bigger picture that

is the pop culture. According to Sir Edwart Burnett Tylor, culture is said to be the “complex

whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities













Burnett Tylor” As part of the cyberspace, memes are a collective output from online users

that aims to entertain people whilst also engaging people for serious discussion. However, a

question arises: How can people “get” the joke or satire in a certain meme? This process of

reproducing memes for new meanings is called “resemiotization” by Varis and Blommaert—

a process in which a sign (in this case, a meme) is repeated but with a different context in

order to create new meanings (36). This resemiotization is done for creators to tap into













Lankshear 217). This way, memes give birth to a new kind of communication—one which

empowers people to reflect on news and speak up creatively through new media—so as to

make sense of the world they live in (Börzsei 21). This manner can reflect on every issue and

apply to different discourses, such as politics.

The prevalence of internet memes have contributed to the worldwide contribution of

statements and discussion of issues about politics. Though many know the fact that memes

are really used in creating political statements, some people dismiss its part to the political

conversation. This is mainly because society has created a dichotomy between popular

culture (in which memes are a part of) and politics, and they deem the former as an

unrealistic mode to talk about the latter. Although there seems to be a coexistence between

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the two, memes that relate to politics are still usually disregarded or considered as trivial

(Plevriti 37). Though pop culture is usually related to entertainment and politics is to literacy

and seriousness, people use the mode of popular culture in order to talk about politics. With

the rise of social media sites, more and more people have started creating memes about

politicians, such as Obama, Trump, and Philppine President Rodrigo Duterte. These memes,

aside from usually containing humor about the politician’s personality, some other instances

also include what that politician would say.

other instances also include what that politician would say. Fig. 1. Spicy Filipino Memes. “Discovering something

Fig. 1. Spicy Filipino Memes. “Discovering something that didn’t exist.” Spicy Filipino Memes, Facebook, 22 April 2017. spicyfilipinomemes/photos/a.


The meme (see Fig. 1) uses the popular show Phineas & Ferb combined with a rather

famous internet joke about “discovering something that does not exist.” To give a new

context or to create resemiotization to Fig. 1, the creator (probably a Filipino, since the name

of the page is Spicy Filipino Memes) puts a revelation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise

of wiping drug addicts in 3-6 months by using the two elements previously mentioned. It can

be inferred that this meme contains a political statement, for his/her use of the Phineas and

Ferb picture added with the context of discovering something that does not exist shows that

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the creator is not pleased with Duterte’s actions, especially with him being in the position for

already 10 months.

With this meme, it can be seen that people remain updated with the state of the nation

through the various means of getting information and literature, especially with the rise of the

internet. Since these are more ways to stay informed, people or online users needed more

spaces or a public sphere (according to Habermas) to gather and discuss their thoughts (in















entertainment, some are also a commentary to the current government or the government

official related to the meme. That is why people have become more expressive in their

opinions and participative in social issues because of the virality of memes in the social

media (Börzsei 23). Some of the discussions may not be as fruitful, but the fact that people

talk about it show that memes have effect on them. “Entertaining politics through memes

invites citizen reflection on what politics is and should be, while also rendering citizenship

more playful and enjoyable.”(Plevriti 43) People use popular culture in order to be more

active as a citizen through connecting each other and making political statements using

memes (Dahlgren 159). That is why memes create an online culture of emancipation and

debate in generating political statements by promoting an innovation of awareness and

freedom of expression.

People use the online public space with the use of memes in order to engage people in

a debate. The openness of the online public space and availability of memes may have

created a “polyvocal and populist conversation,” according to Milner (“Pop Polyvocality”















communicating ideas to promote different perspectives on information (“Pop Polyvocality”

2361). Being involved in a populist conversation means to engage in a disussion that talks or

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addresses the needs of the ordinary people (“What is populism?”). With this populist and

polyvocal conversation, the needs of everyone who lacks voice in the society can speak up

through participating in the discussion about memes and people can come to a certain

agreement. An example of this is the Occupy Wall Street movement that spawned a great

number of memes that have been used for discussion based on what the memes have

exhibited. One of the memes that have been posted in lieu of this event was the Occupy

Sesame Street, in which pictures of youth or rallyists getting arrested or hauled away from the

protest were changed into Sesame Street characters (“Pop Polyvocality” 2383). These memes

and more sparked interest for discussion for online users because it did not just help them talk

about the event itself, but also encouraged people to make more memes about the event.

Facebook also has pages like “Donald Trump Memes” and “Obama and Biden Memes” that

posts memes that show commentary or arguments on the Trump or Obama administration

that engaged people on discussions. With these discussions also sparked conversations on

how an ideal discussion should look like in an online public sphere, since some online

discussions may look pointless, and others, lacking in substance (“The World Made Meme”

24). During the famous Kony 2012 issue, there have been scholarly debates on whether the

online repertoires that have happened to discuss the issue may have been meaningless

(Kligler-Vilenchik & Thorson 2003). The most criticized part about the online activity of

people during this event was the act of sharing the video and “saving the world.” People

thought that this online repertoire is meaningless because one cannot help the Ugandan

people just by sharing it. However, though older generations have deemed the current youth

(which comprises many of today’s online users) as apathetic, their participation to political

issues imply that they are aware of the current issues in society (Kligler-Vilenchik & Thorson

2005). Some examples that may have exemplified the participation of the youth could be:

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Bernardino 7 ! Fig. 2. De Dios, Gian. “Good shit right there.” Ageless Ateneo Memes, Facebook,

Fig. 2. De Dios, Gian. “Good shit right there.” Ageless Ateneo Memes, Facebook, 27 March 2017. LoyolaSchoolOfMemology/photos/a.


Fig. 2 tackles the batching system of Ateneo. To put the readers in context, students

are given a batch number to keep AISIS (Ateneo Integrated Student Information System)

from crashing during online enlistment for their classes. If one gets the first batch, there is

more freedom for students to choose the subjects that they want. Since there is a high amount

of demand for students who want to be at the first batch but only a few can be given, the

comic is arranged in a way that would make the act of getting or smuggling the first batch

number a sketchy arrangement. This meme therefore is a commentary to the batching system

of enlisting in Ateneo—getting a class may not be as effective to the people who are not

priveleged enough to be part of the first batch. This is not only the Atenean meme that would

be seen in Ateneo, but there are many more, which emphasizes that there are more people

who wants to create a statement for themselves especially with the politics that is happening

around them in the university.

Citizens have been granted the freedom of expression a very long time ago, but the

existence of internet has created more avenues for people to express their opinions, especially

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with political issues. With this, there can be creative expression with the use of memes,

therefore emancipating other people to speak up for themselves as well.

Because memes are not just an online material to make people laugh, through creating

memes, people are not just spreading entertainment, but also a chance for them to think,

reproduce, or create their own as a commentary to political issues. This is done by giving the

users anonymity, which proves that there is only a “prioritization of creative freedom”

especially in the creation of memes, since the online public sphere dismisses the status of the

people and only focuses everyone’s participation on the critical analysis of common

concerns, thus the people can make memes that can be socially transgressive and not be

arrested because of it (Davison 132; Chen 9).

and not be arrested because of it (Davison 132; Chen 9). Fig. 3.“Pepper Spray Cop incorporated

Fig. 3.“Pepper Spray Cop incorporated to The Creation of Adam” Wired, CNMN Collection, 2011.


images_blogs/underwire/2011/11/TheCreationOfAdam.jpg Fig. 4.“Binders Full of Women.” Know Your Meme,

Fig. 4.“Binders Full of Women.” Know Your Meme, Literally Media Ltd., 2012.

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As an example, online users photoshopped pictures of the Pepper Spray Cop (Fig. 3)

to different kinds of images that show how the cop and the justice system not only can be

able to fulfill its job to keep crowds peaceful, but also create collateral damage while doing

so. Another could be Mitt Romney’s reply to a question about the inequitable pays to women

during the Presidential debate of 2012 which brought an uproar of memes that tackled and

mocked his answer (see Fig. 4)(Rentschler & Thrift 330). The lack of attribution in Figures 3

and 4 are few of the examples that buttress the importance of anonymity in creating memes

since these memes represent the common people’s reactions and commentary on these issues.

Mainly, these memes are only “thrown out there” (for the lack of a better term) for people to

discuss the content, not to give credit to the creator trying to make a statement.

This “prioritization of creative freedom” then promotes the participatory culture that









years. According




participatory culture is “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic

engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of

informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to

novices (Jenkins 3).” In a way, the act of creating memes that would spark discussion and

changes in perspectives is contributing to the participatory culture that we have today, since

there is the use of “artistic expression” and civic engagement with how the people are

discussing political issues with memes. As more and more users post memes with political

statements, people can see or reflect how politics is affecting their lives and engage on a

discussion with it in order for the participatory culture to go on full circle.

According to Dahlgren, “Cyberspace is altering how we live, providing us with very

efficacious tools for social agency (149).” The rise of new avenues to retrieve information

also equates to the rise of new ways to express oneself. That is why in an essence, memes are

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slowly becoming a cultural artifact in today’s online culture by being a form of creative

expression. Much like the internet, memes are creating a new wave in communicating humor

and commentary at the same time. Political discourse usually have so much seriousness; so

political memes that bring humour or satire to users become more engaging to be talked

about, since “all the social critique memes in this study have playfully serious qualities,

which may further serve to enhance their contagiousness and fecundity (Knobel & Lankshear

217).” Therefore, since these political memes can spread from one person to another, this

encourages people to partake in the creation of memes as well, thinking that it may have

some contribution to the voice of the masses on issues tackled. With this, people should still

acknowledge and appreciate the existence of memes as the ideal discussion on politics

evolves. However, while waiting on that, people should still utilize the free speech that they

possess, and use it in an efficient way which will not hurt another people which can be

creating memes online, because this engages others to participate and use their free speech


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Bauckhage, C. “Insights into Internet Memes” AAAI Publications, Fifth International

AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, pp. 42-49, http:// Accessed 1

March 2017.

“Binders Full of Women.” Know Your Meme, Literally Media Ltd., 2012. http://i1.kym-

Börzsei, Linda. “Makes a Meme Instead: A Concise History of Memes.” Utrecht University,

2013, pp. 1-28.

Chen, Carl. “The creation and meaning of internet memes in 4chan: Popular internet

culture in the age of online digital reproduction.” Institutions Habitus, 2012, pp.


Dahlgren, Peter. Media and Political Engagement: Citizens, Communication, and

Democracy. Cambridge U.P., 2009.

Davison, Patrick. “The language of internet memes.” The social media reader (2012):


Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition. Oxford U.P., 2006.

De Dios, Gian. “Good shit right there.” Ageless Ateneo Memes, Facebook, 27 March 2017.


Jenkins, Henry. "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for

the 21st Century. An Occasional Paper on Digital Media and Learning." John D. and

Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (2006).

Knobel, Michele; Lankshear, Colin. “Chapter Nine: Online Memes, Affinities and

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Cultural Production.” A New Literacies Sampler (2007): 199-227.

Milner, Ryan M. “Pop polyvocality: Internet memes, public participation and the

Occupy Wall Street movement.” International journal of Communication 7, pp.


“The World Made Meme: Discourse and Identity in Participatory Media.” Diss.

University of Kansas, 2012.

Pepper Spray Cop incorporated to The Creation of Adam” Wired, CNMN Collection, 2011.


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Criticism, Extending Debate and Enhancing Civic Engagement.” Diss. The

University of Warwick, 2014.

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troublemaker." Journal of Computer -Mediated Communication 18.3 (2013):


Spicy Filipino Memes. “Discovering something that didn’t exist.” Spicy Filipino

Memes, Facebook, 22 April 2017.


1893667664180862.1073741828.1893317570882538/1898289093718719. Accessed

25 April 2017.

Tay, Geniesa. "Embracing LOLitics: Popular Culture, Online Political Humor, and

Play.” Thesis. University of Canterbury, 2012.

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