Look at Us, We Have Anxiety: Youth, Memes, and the Power of Online Cultural Politics
Childhood is often defined by social marginalization— by a denial of access to public space and voice, and the circumscription of what interests, issues, and discourses are open to young people. The internet, as a space of expression that has lowered barriers to entry and confounded attempts at social control, is one of the primary spaces in which 21st-century youth are able to resist adult efforts to regulate their agency and expression. However, it is not only the technological tools of the online world that help them to resist marginalization from public discourse in these spaces, but also its symbolic and cultural resources—shared ideas, practices, and vocabularies particular to online communities. As part of larger projects on teens’ and young adults’ use of online communities to engage with cultural politics, I have been investigating the use of memes—patterns of formulaic content that rise and fall in popularity in short periods of time—in social critique, ideological discourse, community building, and identity representation. This paper examines the impact of memes on cultural discourse and, indirectly, on institutional politics, exploring their potential as an empowering channel of expression as well as their ongoing use as a tool of manipulation by larger political forces. I argue that understanding the cultural power of memes and other aspects of online remix culture is vital to theorizing contemporary politics, to analyzing the experiences and identities of contemporary youth, and to preventing the worst eventualities the increasing significance of online cultural politics may enable.
Copyright (c) 2019 Julian Burton
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Authors contributing to the Journal of Childhood Studies agree to release their articles under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 International license. This licence allows anyone to share their work (copy, distribute, transmit) and to adapt it for non-commercial purposes provided that appropriate attribution is given, and that in the event of reuse or distribution, the terms of this license are made clear.
Authors retain copyright of their work and grant the journal right of first publication.
Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.