Memes Are Propaganda Now
How stupid internet cat jokes morphed into one of Trump’s most effective weapons
This all started because a cat wanted a cheeseburger. I was online to bear witness to the birth of memes. I saw Keyboard Cat play off 5,700 different people. I slogged through dozens of recuts of the late Bruno Ganz throwing a tantrum as Hitler in Downfall, on topics ranging from the Dallas Cowboys to Star Wars. I read all the tired Chuck Norris one-liners. And, naturally, I was forwarded every single de facto one-panel comic from I Can Haz Cheezburger?, a site that raised $30 million in venture capital, spawned two books, and got its own reality show on Bravo. I saw every LOLcat there was to see, and I don’t even like cats.
Cheezburger was one of those sites whose content was so ubiquitous that I became outright irritated by it. I said to my friends, “You know, I can just go to their website to see all this. You don’t have to be the personal courier acting as a liaison between me and everything they’ve ever produced.” They didn’t bother to listen. Instead, in our email chain, there was an endless parade of this:
That gag font has persisted online ever since. Only instead of it appearing in captions underneath photos of cats trying to open up a takeout carton of sesame chicken, it eventually became the go-to typeface for this:
In my late aughts naivete, I never expected that font to become the harbinger of incoming hate speech, but here we are. The procession of disposable cat memes that once polluted my work chat was formally monetized into Facebook’s news feed, but not before the memes themselves were co-opted by wingnuts. For these people, memes have become the preferred vessel for hot takes, often ugly ones. As a result…