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DUNLEVY: Critical evaluation of media is advised for political discourse

Column: Tempus Fugit

It is hardly a controversial statement to note that, in the present, political consciousness has been massively on the rise.  

While it would certainly be untrue to imply that political awareness — especially on university campuses — is anything new, partisan and charged politics have dominated for more than a brief period. Thus, they must be understood as more prevalent than they have been in previous decades. 

There is certainly no shame in every individual having developed an opinion on the world around them — so as long as this opinion is well informed and not devoid of nuance, this must be understood to be a good thing. 

Regarding the strength of this political fervor, it may well be in its infancy, but cannot at present be considered as strong as the major political clashes and commotions which dominated the history books. But the many new factors of the modern age have tempered this situation into something somewhat unique.

It must first be noted that the advancement of technology has, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, led to political and societal change moving more and more quickly. 

Though I would be hesitant to say that the situation has reached a “critical mass” so-to-speak, this factor, in conjunction with the size of the United States and the cultural differences across the nation, has led to extremely varied political inclinations across the country. This itself is aged old, but the role of the generational divide is more prominent than ever.  

Rapidly changing values in a nation consisting of eager and hesitant citizens alike create tension. Generational divides are nothing new — “Never trust anybody over 30” was a popular hippie saying — but the seething, developing vitriol has a potency that has not been matched by anything most people today can remember. 

This is perhaps best surmised through an analysis of the recent popularity of the phrase “OK Boomer,” an internet meme which has recently made the rounds of popular culture. The most unique facet of modern political discourse must, of course, be the defining feature of the age: the internet. 

Enough has been said of the vastness of the internet, the potential it represents and the unprecedented access to a rapid flow of information and knowledge it offers: there is little to be gained through musing its inherent nature in a column such as this. 

What is of particular interest are the consequences of these circumstances. As a phrase, “OK Boomer” reflects intergenerational angst and conflict, dismissing not only the old, but also the not young — the phrase incubated and grew online before gleaming massive media attention in November.  

What is fascinating here is the serious attention respected and traditional media outlets have given (and perhaps had to give) to an internet joke. Upon a cursory Google, I have found articles from Forbes, The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), The Washington Post, The Atlantic and CBS, and without reading them, I would bet at least a couple of them are making the same general analysis about the internet and the spirit of the times that I have thus far.  

What we have here is a precedent, a precedent of internet jokes having real political consequences. General consciousness across a nation, informed en-masse by what had its origins in a funny way to say something online. These articles surely helped the phrase blow up, but such reports only existed as a reaction to initial popularity — the origin of this interest, the first manifestation of this political feeling in this particular context was the meme. 

It is becoming clearer and clearer that memes must be considered as the major vector of a political feeling of the age.  

Anecdotal evidence is generally worth very little, but I do not think that I am the only one who can name friends for whom it is valid to suspect that the foundation of what they believe politically is driven at least secondarily, if not primarily, by the images they enjoy online. 

Just as cultures and countercultures were long driven by publications and Zines, political campaigns once prominently involved marching bands and music and speeches on soapboxes used to be common on city streets, the hearts and minds of the people of the present day will be won by memes.  

This is not true only of the youth — look at the state of Facebook, the social media platform of choice for America’s more mature generations, and it becomes clear how entrenched memes have become.  

There will always be a place for developed literature and theory, and traditional media certainly will not be going anywhere any time soon — in this case, it has served as perhaps the best metric for the influence of memes and the internet. In spite of this, its potency diminishes.  

Above all else, I would urge those who wish to popularize a cause to do what has always made things popular, and make it cool — this requires an understanding of what it is to be cool, and memes have become the way to do it.   

To others, I would advise the critical evaluation of the media one consumes.

Ash C. Dunlevy is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in plant science, agriculture and food systems. His column, "Tempus Fugit," runs on alternate Mondays.


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