We’ve all seen cats and celebrities become images that represent cultural moments in spreadable and shareable ways — also known as a “meme.” Memes often represent jokes and light-hearted cultural moments, but they have also become an outlet for activist movements and political expression. VICE news recently featured a new type of meme circulating worldwide: “activist memes.” Previous generations wrote songs and created art to protest policies and create movements, but VICE notes that 21st century memes can go viral in seconds.
James M. Jasper, a sociology professor, argues that protest movements often involve emotional elements. To this end, Jasper argues that the subjects of activist memes are often villains:
“They’re an important step in arousing the anger or fear that can mobilize people…the media [of protest art] have changed somewhat, but the purposes are similar: the blaming of villains, the identification of victims, as well as outrage at the villains and compassion for those victims.”
Political figures like President Trump are a major target for activist memes and protest art in both liberal and conservative camps, especially for those who disagree with major players’ policies. According to VICE author Sage Lazzaro:
“creating or consuming political memes that align with one’s point of view can be therapeutic. They reflect what’s happening in society, and help justify feelings of rage and fear while helping us feel less alone.”