Meme mēm/ noun
1. an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
2. a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
Like it or not, what we share, like or retweet in our social media presence actually says something about us. I know many of us spend little time filtering or applying judgement to such a simple action as hitting a button on our smart phones or web browsers. My Facebook newsfeed is a clear testament to that. But what we choose to share is after all, a choice. So I took some time over the last few weeks to capture some of the memes that illustrate some common themes that my “friends” have chosen to share. Here’s a little slice of what I found and what opinions it may serve to inform about those who chose to share them.
1. The Warning From The Past
What it sounds like to the rest of us:
“I’m not that big on understanding the history of America, but I’ve got an opinion about what’s historically been good for her”
I’m about as big a fan of Abraham Lincoln as you are going to find. But finding and using a quote by Abraham Lincoln as a warning against executive overreach is akin to using a Bill Clinton quote to warn about the dangers of infidelity or finding a John Boehner quote highlighting the evils of spray tan. Lincoln’s presidency, beginning to end, is a shining example of the expansion of executive power; thankfully or we might be two countries today. Most of the legislation he did sign was passed by a congress who lost a little less than half of its members because they quit the government and started their own country in protest. More over, The Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863 declaring all slaves living in states participating in the rebellion free, is considered the Babe Ruth of all executive directives. A meme like this is a softball for anyone who remembers third grade social studies, but I’ve seen it shared by educated people who should know better about a dozen times. Apparently, when we see something that agrees with our gut, context and accuracy play little role in whether or not we want to share it.
2. The Obscure, Unverifiable Reference
What it sounds like to the rest of us:
“I don’t know who this is or if he said it and neither do you but man does it sound smart.”
Louis Brandeis served with distinction on the United States Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939 during which time he wrote countless dissenting and majority opinions. He also published a book Other People’s Money and How Bank’s Use It. He was without a doubt a supporter for social causes and considered progressive for his time. There is, however, nothing in any of the volumes of his work that remotely resembles this quote. He may have said it, but no one knows when. I’ve seen it multiple times on my own Facebook feed and if I didn’t have a sworn policy against sharing memes, I probably would have shared it myself. Which is one of the reasons I don’t share these things. Because frankly, I have absolutely no idea if it’s accurate. And that matters to me.
3. The Playful Quip About the Good Ole Days
What it sounds like to the rest of us:
“I’m older…and new things scare me.”
If there’s one consistent theme that lives throughout history it’s the notion that the next generation is completely screwed up, at least compared to the last one….according to the last one. The simple truth is that each generation is better equipped to handle the next fifty years than it is to handle the last fifty years. Which is scary for those of us who learned how to live in the last fifty years. I see it in the interns that we pull into my tech firm each summer who do things that I couldn’t imagine were possible at their age. I was a history major for crying out loud. Most of the things that run our world today didn’t exist 20 years ago when I was in school. That’s a little frightening for some people so we have to come up with something to help us feel empowered. And that’s youth bashing. Here’s the thing about kids these days. We’re right. They’re not cut out for the industrial world. Which is actually good for them because we don’t live in the industrial world any more. And yes, they lack wisdom and social skills and can seem entitled. Because they are. Because they’re young. And just like the world moved forward with every screwed up generation in the past, it will move forward with them. So try to spend a little time understanding what they can do well. Because its what people will be doing for the next 50 years.
What else it says to us:
“I think it’s a good idea to beat your kids.”
As a licensed foster care provider and someone married to a mental health professional, I can say with some experience and authority exactly one thing about parenting. If you want to ensure that your children have the best chance of being a destructive, non-functioning member of society, go ahead and beat them regularly. It’s the most common thread amongst people with substance abuse, a history of violence or a propensity to abuse their own children. So, thank you FM 95.9 The Hawk (Southern Utah’s Classic Rock) for sharing your support for beating your kids. If anyone actually listened to FM radio any more, this may have actually bothered someone.
4. The Slippery Slope
What it says To the Rest Of Us:
I have more than one Facebook friend who shared this. In doing so they freely proclaimed that they are so warped by their own political views that they’ve confused advocating for healthcare, gun control and immigration reform with murdering 11 million people because of their ethnicity or disabilities and invading 16 countries on three continents en route to starting the deadliest armed conflict in the history of mankind. Fortunately for us, that slope isn’t that slippery. And if you think it is, you may be crazy.
It’s good fun to poke fun at those who are predisposed to share their political views through the venue of social media. After all, this is a blog about political and social issues and those that choose to do so through the turnstile of sharing or liking memes are pretty easy targets. There’s an important message in here somewhere though. It’s this. A lot of this stuff actually matters. This isn’t Yankees v Red Sox where you get to spout off endless rhetoric about how you loathe Derek Jeter and how he’s over rated despite all evidence to the contrary. This isn’t reality TV where it’s open season to poke fun at or mock those who voluntarily allow us into their lives to do so. Those things don’t matter so if you want to invest no time in forming your opinion on them and continue to distribute nonsense, that’s acceptable and encouraged. It’s all in good fun. When it comes to political and social issues though, remember one thing. You’re participating in generating a collective opinion about things that actually effect people’s lives. So that should require some thought. Don’t like Obamacare? That’s your right as an American to disagree with the government. But there are 17 million people who get get healthcare through that bill, many of which couldn’t without it so before you spread rhetoric about it, do a little work to understand it. Think our foreign enemies view our country as weak and we need to go put “boots on the ground” to go teach someone a lesson? That’s your right to believe it. But someone has to go do that and someone’s going to die in service to that opinion. So do a little work to inform it. So what am I asking for? It’s pretty basic really. Before you hit share, ask yourself two questions. 1) Does this issue have a material impact on someone’s life? 2) Do I actually have any substantive knowledge about it? If it’s “yes” to #1 and “no” to #2, just move on. If you can’t do that, then at least understand how it sounds to the rest of us who can.