Do you remember where you were when the upcoming Federal Election was announced? Me neither, though I do recall feeling queasy, vowing to stop watching the news and preparing for the inevitable onslaught of mind-numbing slogans, over-simplified arguments and social media stunts. Seventy-five days sentenced to political hell. Election campaigns are a bit like witnessing a nasty car bingle. You want to look away but you can’t. It all starts appearing in slow motion.
Via an anonymous Facebook profile and Twitter, I have been following pages of major political parties, their affiliated organisations, unions and community or interest groups. Many of these pages include groups who identify as far-left and far-right. The objective: to watch the election unfold (or unravel) through the lens of memes shared by Australians regardless of their political leanings.
The following observations are based on (and feature) some of the hundreds of memes collected so far.
We accepted that winter was coming. The horror was palpable:
PART ONE. Incidents and Accidents:
Accident: Peter Dutton was the first to inspire the imaginations of memers. He was photographed at a press conference responding to self-harm cases reported on Nauru. The picture was deemed ‘unflattering’, prompting staff to request that the image be removed online. It was inevitable. Dutton was memed. Ruthlessly. It created a benchmark of sorts and also provided a taste of what was to come.
Funny / not-so-funny/ Ewww; a classic characteristic of both memes and election campaigns.
Incidents: Panama Papers & Parakeelia
Both incidents have had Malcolm Turnbull and the LNP ramping up their ‘jobs and growth’ rhetoric while jigging nervously on the sidelines. Both issues also have fairly hefty implications in regard to perceptions of personal and party integrity. The kind of thing that quickly becomes the elephant in the room. Perfect fodder for meming.
Accident: Man Boobs.
It used to be budgie smugglers and shoulder-pads. Given the top-notch quality of reputable journalism in this country, we weren’t at all surprised when memes began to body-shame Bill Shorten after unflattering media footage was released. One wonders what kind of outrage might have ensued if a female candidate had copped such a hiding. Really this is just character sabotage. Nothing more, nothing less. Memers couldn’t resist the opportunity.
Incident: The Mother Patriot.
In mid-May we saw Pauline Hanson announce her intention to run for Parliament for the 10th time since 1996. With predictably polarised reactions to this announcement, we see her portrayed as either a delusional racist attention-seeker or the mother patriot with not much in between.
The meme below was created using a photograph taken by artist Emma Phillips (article HERE). It pretty much sums up the core beliefs of One Nation. As shown above, memes of the ‘I told you so’ variety are very popular in relation to Hanson, though many of us are still trying to figure out what they mean. Pauline told me what exactly? Have I missed something?
Perhaps the grandest accident so far. This has made the LNP a laughing-stock. A classic example of television electoral campaigning gone wrong. It was all in response to THIS ad suggesting that we ‘stick with the current mob’. The people have spoken. It sucked. It was demeaning, badly thought out and sported a kind of jingoism that struck a nerve all over the country. New #FakeTradie memes have been appearing in our news feeds for days now, which is a pretty good indicator that the commercial was, and is, a true-blue stuff up. Here are some of the results of the public backlash:
PART TWO: Hints and Allegations.
Hints: Organised Meming, Youth Politics, Unions and ‘Dank’ memes:
Utter nonsense. It’s a legitimate thing in the world of serious campaign meming. According to numerous recent articles, the ‘dank’ meme has become a signature campaign tool being churned out by digital teams for major parties and by Unions (most successfully the AMWU) throughout this campaign. Young Labor and Greens have both embraced meming and have pretty much declared a ‘meme war’. More specifically a ‘dank’ meme war.
The term ‘dank’ here refers to something other than being unpleasantly damp and cold. Instead, it refers to a meme ‘…that is intentionally bad or bizarre; “an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché”.’ (Josh Butler – Huffpost). See HERE for a more detailed explanation.
So what do dank memes look like? A frog on a unicycle and these:
Props also to the ‘Simpsons Against the Liberals‘ Facebook page where barbed meming reins and nothing is sacred. The page has over 58,000 followers.
In a recent article Con Stavros, associate professor of marketing at RMIT University, “told HuffPost Australia that these images are, by definition, targeted at people who already support the organisations creating them — meaning they likely won’t necessarily translate into more votes, as supporters are already voting that way”. “A lot of that stuff ends up speaking to communities of like-minded individuals. If it’s a union group, they’re talking to their members. I suspect it doesn’t have much of an impact. It might feel like you’re contributing to the discussion, but it is likely going out to like-minded people, not the people who will decide the election, the marginal voters,” he said.
It’s a great point, but from my perspective, memes are just as important when it comes to reinforcing our political beliefs within our friendship circles. Do we share memes to win the support of marginal voters? To sway the mind of somebody else? Not necessarily. Instead we like to make ‘noise’ and at the same time affirming our own identity and beliefs. Consider it a kind of herding mechanism.
Memes are more often used to make a personal statement than to instigate debate. Granted; we all have a friend or two who revels in stirring the pot, reading the comments and engaging in endless debate on social media, though I would argue that a majority of us prefer to ‘like’ and ‘share’. By and large, we surround ourselves with like-minded people both on and offline, and we love expressing our opinions; whether it’s within a group, on a page or within out personal circles.
Based on the memes that have been shared most widely in my own feeds and those of the parties and groups I have been following, the topics that appear to be most important to us on social media have been:
Wealth and class issues, budget, religion (Islam and Christianity), the NBN, same-sex marriage / plebiscite, asylum seekers, national security, negative gearing. Lesser issues appear to be Medicare, environment, fracking, company tax and education.
I also acknowledge that while I have attempted to collect widely, it’s more than likely that there are meme trends that have remained outside the circles I’ve been observing.
Meme generators, Pop Culture, Joe Blow and online soap boxes.
Please welcome to the stage the traditional home-made meme. In general, we tend to think of ourselves as a nation of people who enjoy a good laugh or a joke. We love to ‘take the piss’ (especially when it comes to politicians), though often the line between the humorous and offensive is messy. The line can become razor-sharp in the hands of some meme creators; especially during an election campaign. Anybody can download a meme generator. Some individuals and community groups are well-known online for their meming prowess, even though there’s often no way to identify who’s creating them. Here’s a look at the election campaign in meme themes:
Hate Memes. Where’s the line between free speech, disrespect and hatred?
When Turnbull recently invited prominent Muslim Australians to an Iftar dinner (and I’m not going into the issue of the guest list), a large number of community groups memed loudly. ‘Patriots’ who once celebrated the LNP and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s anti-Muslim sentiments are accusing Turnbull of being a traitor. There’s no real way of knowing whether or not these sentiments will cost Turnbull votes, though I suspect that amongst hard-core ‘patriots’, the LNP isn’t as attractive as it was last time we all lined up at the polls to tick boxes and eat sausages.
The LNP is not the only party being targeted by those who oppose to Muslims and refugees. The Greens and Labor haven’t been getting much love either:
What could be referred to as the ‘Patriotic Movement’ in Australia has had a strong presence online during this campaign. There are a growing number of anti-Islam, pro-Aussie, anti-Sharia, anti-Halal ‘patriotic’ groups currently belting out memes. Again, you are unlikely to come across these unless your social groups share these beliefs.
Memes on this topic are more often issue-based and anti-major parties but do not endorse any single party in particular. Whether you consider such memes free speech, hate speech or blatant Islamophobia / racism they are powerful in reinforcing an ideology, lack humour and succeed in maintaining levels of fear and hate. The below meme has been doing the rounds in the comments sections of a number of pages concerned with the upcoming election.
Currently, One Nation and the Australian Liberty Alliance are hard on the campaign trail but do not appear to be embracing memes in the same way the major parties have been.
Another mob who have been meming passionately and are advocating support for independents and minor parties only. The ‘Silent Majority’ closed community page has over 9,000 supporters on Facebook and many of their interests are in line with those of One Nation and ALA. Their primary objective seems to be simply to erode the ‘two party trap’. Kim Vuga is popular. Nick Xenophon not so much. He’s too Green.
Then there are those who aren’t fans of a hung parliament or the way the preference system works either. Don’t be a Turqey:
Where are the LOVE memes? Either positive memes aren’t being created as much or if they are, they’re not being shared widely. Other than Pauline, the politics of love are almost exclusively restricted to the domain of billboards, posters, flyers and the sides of campaign trucks. The stuff arriving in our mailboxes isn’t all that positive either, come to think of it. Hate, ‘piss-taking’, parody, satire and mockery have long been the bedfellows of dark humour and memes present the perfect format.
In THIS article, Tim Highfield states:
“Social media and politics have been entwined for a long time, especially in Australia. Twitter in particular was a key resource for covering the first Rudd/Gillard spill in 2010. Since then, the likes of #ausvotes, #auspol and #qanda have become regular markers for political topics and commentary – civil or otherwise”.
Below are memes personally targeting some of our more ‘popular’ politicians and putting our meming talents (or lack of…) on display:
Just For Fun.
Here’s what we’ve been meming about the ALP:
Memes about the LNP:
Pop Culture Memes:
Memes we’ve seen before:
Memes that can go either way:
My personal favourite:
With just over a week to go before polling day (PHEW!), and given memes will ultimately take the place of electoral advertising three days prior to the election, I will continue to collect and collate. I will also post the entire meme collection on this blog when the day has finally arrived.
Props also to @WoefulAuspol on Twitter. ‘Woeful Auspol Memes’ has been vigorously re-tweeting election and political memes throughout the campaign and the results are often equally woeful and amusing.
See YouTube link HERE or below for VIDEO compilation of memes.
NB. As a folklorist my area of study is cultural phenomena that is disseminated through ‘unofficial’ channels. While many of these memes have been created by organisations and individuals, they often cannot be sourced. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have copyright or credits concerns.
Ruth Hazleton (The Hidden Culture) is a folklorist, oral & social historian, researcher, musician, blogger, mum, lover of broccoli and looking for work writing social commentary from a folklore perspective. Contact me: email@example.com