A Deep Dive Into Australia’s New And Extremely Weird Political Meme Culture
Ever since the roulette wheel of Australian Prime Ministers began spiraling towards the void in 2007, Australian political culture has got a bit out of hand. And when I say ‘out of hand’, I of course mean ‘fucking ridiculous’. As we spun even further out of control in 2015, our country became saturated with onion-eating maniacs overnight, and the public responded the only way they knew how: by making dank memes.
So, so many dank memes. And a lot of arid memes too.
Australian political meme culture has taken it up a notch this year. Politicians have finally realised that anyone under the age of 25 is 80 percent irony and 20 percent nihilism at this point, and have hired a bunch of young political gremlins to create the best kind of incidental propaganda possible.
Even if you’re not following the election, it’s likely you have come across one of the many political meme Facebook pages. They’re everywhere. They’re pervasive. We can’t escape them anymore, so it’s time to finally start seriously analysing the relationship between memes and politics. I’m sorry.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union page began churning out memes like this one:
— The AMWU (@theamwu) June 8, 2016
Recenty Labor started “The ALP Spicy Meme Stash”, filling up your feed with this kinda shit:
The Liberals, while not the most popular party among prime meme demographics (anyone young, ironic, poor, queer, disabled, or a student), definitely have the best page name. Here’s a classic from “Innovative and Agile Memes.”
Frustratingly dank, I know.
But while Young Labor and the Young Libs have started a “meme war”, America’s meme culture is shredding itself into glorious pieces. We’ve seen memes traverse the line between the internet and the real world to the point where Ted Cruz mentioned serial killers on Kimmel with no context whatsoever, and Hillary Clinton used Snapchat to make the world’s worst Zinger.
But I think we need to go deeper. Memes deal with an awful lot of cultural myth-making. Especially in American politics, it’s all about parodying candidates’ personalities. For example, Hillary Clinton is caricatured as being out of touch with the kids but desperate to be liked by them:
While Ted Cruz was re-imagined as the Zodiac Killer, mainly due to his psychologically unsettling face.
American political meme culture has crowdsourced enough material for SNL to make years’ worth of parody sketches. But bringing it back home, it’s fascinating to see the differences between their meme culture and our own. America fixates on the personalities of its leaders because that’s what their politics prioritises. But Australia is a little different — our memes tend to focus less on individuals and more on policy.
There are a few reasons for why that might be. Arguably, we’ve stopped caring about our leaders’ personalities because the same shitty, life-threatening policies occur no matter if it’s Rudd or Gillard or Rudd or Abbott or Turnbull or Shorten in power.
Mostly, though, almost all our meme pages are run by people involved with the parties themselves. Our memepool is so insular that party politics has found yet another fucking space to exist, with the same shitty infighting as every other section of politics.
And because these pages are run by people who are both highly politically literate and have high meme literacy, it becomes almost inaccessible to the general public. So if you’re not up to date on hot political topics, shit like this will make no sense:
So what can this meme culture tell us? Plenty of these political memes are hyper-partisan, either sycophantic to the party that makes them or boringly hostile towards their opponents. Unlike in the US, there’s no strong parody of Shorten or Turnbull themselves. These memes are not made to change the way you think about the leaders.
What they are good at, however, is selling a picture of political involvement: the idea that being involved in politics at a young age is cool. They sell you an invitation to the Young Libs, or Young Labor. They sell you political participation, and their currency is dankness.
The only viable solution? Abandon partisan memes and follow Below The Line Memes for Big Dick Teens instead. It is the only way.
Emma Balfour is currently doing an Honours thesis about American political memes and is never going to live it down. You can see her tweet about pinup fashion and X-Men @balfies.