Memes between technic and magic


Reaction characters like Wojak or Pepe the Frog: they have always had a story of their own, and what a story! The countless iterations of these figures, produced over many years by groups of users spread across an archipelago of imageboards, have given origin to intricate family trees and genealogies, intertwined through complex narratives.

Pedo Bear, Spurdo Spärde, Gondola, Gritty, to name a few, have often assumed the role of protectors or totems for particular groups and subcultures. We could even think of them as a manifestation of the collective unconscious of the memesphere. What is striking about these figures is their mythological aura: it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of them managed to gain semi-divine status. Initially as an inside joke, sure. But in some cases, a joke can turn into a war.

“Twitch Plays Pokémon” (TPP), a crowdsourced attempt to play Pokémon games on the famous streaming platform, gave us a first interesting example of beatification of a fictional digital figure when Lord Helix, a revived fossil Pokémon, earned the title “God”, due to his outstanding contribution to the players’ collective victory.

A less innocent example emerged on 4chan during the early phases of what came to be known as the First Great Meme War. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, apophenia went out of control when 4chan users started to draw improbable connections between Trump’s increasing successes, an ancient Egyptian frog god and Pepe the Frog. Thus, the Cult of Kek and Meme Magic were born. With Trump’s unexpected victory against Hillary Clinton, the belief that memes had the power to alter reality gained a new dimension.

If you really want to go down this path, we suggest searching for the writings of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) that was active at Warwick University between 1995 and 1997. Their concept of “hyperstition” as a “fiction that makes things happen” prefigures many of the developments that took place over the past years.

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