Memes and identity politics


Some memes survive the times and continue to be used generation after generation, changing their original meaning in the process. Others remain buried in ancient threads, waiting for someone to find them one day, like the precious amber fossils from Jurassic Park. Wojak is one of the rare memes that has always remained present in the hearts and imageboards. During the rise of Rage Comics, Wojak used to be the basic human, the “feels guy”. During the years Wojak became happy or sad, turned into the spineless cuck, the suicidal employee, the grudging McDonald cashier, the cryptotrader facing a crash. However, the social reductionism expressed in the Wojaks can also lead to strong binary polarizations, as shown in meme formats such as “Virgin vs. Chad” or “Buff Doge vs. Cheems”. These formats thrived in a peculiar niche of the memetic subcultural ecosystem known as the Incel community.

Incel culture is ripe with paradoxes and contradictions: the term “Incel” itself, for instance, was created by a woman, Alana, to describe her condition of “involuntary celibacy”; nowadays, it has become synonymous for a militant form of (mostly) white misogyny. Incel ideology aims to give simple, dichotomic answers to complex and fragmented problems, usually pointing to the questioning of white, patriarchal hegemony by feminist movements and social justice activists as the original sin of contemporary society. The idea that humanity can easily be divided in two opposed categories is just the latest expression of a dichotomic, hierarchical worldview that has deep roots. Tragically, the friction between the idealized, supposedly self-evident “truths” endorsed by the more militant fringes of the Incel community and the complex reality we live in can result in terrorist acts, shootings and massacres of innocent people. It is worth noting, however, that dichotomic formats can be subverted and put to use against the very subcultures that generated them, as shown by the memes created by the BLM movement to compare the protagonists of the George Floyd protests to anti-mask protestors, or by the ones from the queer community we can observe in this table.

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