Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The “new” meme going around concerns the election. Not sure if you’ve heard, but the United States is conducting midterm elections today, the first national elections since Trump’s upset victory in 2016. The fate of the world, it seems, hangs on the results of this election and whether the Republicans maintain control of the legislative branch.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the new meme. The new meme going around Twitter is a comparative meme placing an image of you (literally or figuratively) voting in 2016 with you voting in 2018.
Get the gist? It’s pretty straightforward — the latest iteration in a long line of memes about the passage of time and how it unrelentingly pounds us into dust. (See also: memes about the beginning versus the end of 2016.)
The latest meme is depressing more than it is funny, even in a self-deprecating way. It’s also revisionist. The fact is 2016, even pre-November 2016, was not particularly upbeat for anyone even remotely aware of what was happening in the presidential race. It was exhausting.
Are these memes fun? I don’t know. The thing about participation in election memes is that it requires a person to (1) have knowledge of the elections that they address, and (2) be online enough to make a joke about the midterms. Making a joke about how the election is putting you through the wringer necessitates that you also need to … go through the wringer. Often voluntarily. There’s something to be said for gallows humor, but it works best in limited doses, not as the default mode of discussing the electoral process online.
Then it might be worth asking why we subject ourselves to this torture. (For the record, I think immersing oneself in politics online would be exhausting even if one side wasn’t so openly bigoted and reliant on troll tactics.) The broad issue, I think, is that the gulf between the pace of technology and democracy continues to widen. Elections happen every two years in this country, but online discussion of the next race starts roughly six hours after the last one ends. And because social media moves a lot faster than our federal government, it oversaturates us with information and makes us impatient to wield that knowledge in some way other than yelling at other people online.
And so, as this meme demonstrates, even when we finally get the catharsis of voting, we barely get a moment to celebrate. Even if your preferred side wins, you’re just going to log on tomorrow and start the process over. The election cycle no longer has an ebb and flow online, it’s just a constant hum. And so every meme about that hum will be one of despair. There is no longer any such thing as a happy meme about voting.