Funny Internet Memes: Effective Response to Surveillance?

The funny pictures and videos we now call “memes” are all over the internet. While most memes may have the same format and pictures, the text often changes to create humor out of a generally more serious topic. When the 2013 NSA/Snowden scandal happened, it became the subject of many memes/videos on the web. One might think making a funny picture out of an issue as serious as privacy and surveillance is innappropriate, but it’s just a way of helping us cope. It reminds us that while these awful things may be happening, we can find humor in the situation that may give us hope or encouragement to intervene and stand up for what we think about what’s going on in the world around us.
The issue of privacy and surveillance is something that affects everybody. Bob Sullivan in his article “Privacy under attack, but does anybody care?” said “Privacy is like health: When you have it, you don’t notice it. Only when it’s gone do you wish you’d done more to protect it.” Everyone has many things that they don’t want the rest of the world to know about and that’s exactly why were given the right to keep our personal lives private. As the years go on, that right we were promised seems to be slowly eroded. Our phone calls are monitored, surveillance cameras are everywhere we look, and our cell phones can tell anyone where we are at any moment. These are all things that are scary, invasive, and unsettling. So why do we joke about them? Inserting humor in a serious situation is a very effective away to apply that situation to our own lives. Seeing a meme we recognize that includes text or a picture about privacy and surveillance allow us to relate that issue to our own lives and realize that it does affect us personally.
How do we go on living our daily lives without being in constant fear and suspision? We do it by turning fear into laughter. That’s not to be mistaken with taking the situation lightly..that’s not the purpose of the internet memes. Creating humor in a seemingly helpless situation allows us to know the issue and make the connection to our own lives, and that is exactly why joking about the situation on the web is a coping device for so many. While we may not google search “surveillance memes” when we’re feeling a bit uneasy about drones flying about, seeing a meme on our twitter feeds about the situation allows us to see the situation, imitate the feelings it gives, and respond/share positively. Richard Dawkins said: “Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.” Everyone knows what is happening with privacy and surveillance and seeing those pictures may help people to realize how rediculous the situation is from an outside perspective and suddenly feel inclined to do or say something about it to their peers or the government/corporation itself.
Lightening up a serious situation with humor has been around long since the internet. Television involves cartoons addressing serious situations and newspapers involve political comics creating an enjoyable spin on the most recent scandals. While television and newspaper memes are easily accessable to us, internet memes are avialable to us almost immediately. Paul Brewer, associate director for research at the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, says “Many of us are using television, social media, smartphones and tablets all at the same time as we take in the debates, by the time the debate is halfway over, there’s already a Tumblr site full of memes.” Memes are an extremely effective way to not only make people laugh, but spread the laughter around the World Wide Web quickly.
As humans, we have certain ways of dealing with situations we feel like we can do nothing about. The government and big businesses are the main ones involved in invading the privacy in our lives, and as a single person we feel helpless against those powers. Seeing and sharing a funny picture about privacy and surveillance allows us to relate to the situation ourselves, and sharing that picture with our friends allows us to spread the word. Pal Gil, an internet basics expert said, “A meme with political humor attached to it can virally spread awareness of an issue, or can help to reinforce growing attitudes and prejudices.” Internet memes on privacy and surveillance are informative, they’re effective, and they’re down-right hilarious.

Neuman, Scott. “Political Memes: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control?” NPR. 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. .

Gleik, James. “What Defines a Meme?” Smithsonian Magazine, 11 May 2011. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. .

Sullivan, Bob. “Privacy under Attack, but Does Anyone Care?” NBC News. 17 Oct. 2006. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. .

Gil, Paul. “Why Would You Ever Create an Internet Meme?” About Technology. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. .

16 thoughts on “Funny Internet Memes: Effective Response to Surveillance?

  1. I find memes to be extremely annoying, as I have found myself scrolling down many image macro sites looking at recycled jokes and failed attempts at humor, thinking “What am I doing with my life?” But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the power a meme can have. A wide spread image has more power and connotation than a few paragraphs can. Just being associated with a meme can invoke feeling for some people without even knowing what the text is about.

    And as an unrelated example to the above topic but still relevant to my point, I still smack my head against the table whenever someone references Doge.

  2. I’ve always like memes. They follow the comedy rule of it stops being funny after about three times, and then starts being funny again after about 1000. But the best thing about them is the satyrical use. They take a subject, like surveilance or privacy, and then make light of them while still delivering a powerful message. Sometimes the best way to open people’s eyes is to suggest or show something completely outrageous, like proposing to solve hunger by eating babies. Its not serious, of course, and (I hope) that it would never even be considered, but it catches peoples eye and has them say “yeah this is a problem, and we need to do something about it.” It also gets spread around either because of how shocking it is or because its funny. Very good post, informative and well written, and some of the memes made me smile.

  3. I feel that internet memes make the issue of privacy and surveillance more compatible with the everyday person. Whether we like it or not, lots of people in this time do not read or indulge themselves in articles and papers that are concerned with this topic; like political cartoons, internet memes can make a serious issue like privacy and surveillance easier for people to comprehend. While memes make issues like these easier, they also can cloud the importance or reality of these issues we face.

  4. I enjoyed your blog post, an interesting perspective on something that has a much deeper purpose than most people initially realize.

    I believe that internet memes are useful to raise awareness about different social and political issues. My biggest concern is that these can marginalize different issues and make people feel that they’re not real scenarios, when they actually are.

    I know that memes aren’t created to educate, and I don’t think they’re successful in the transmission of information or misinformation. However, if they get the issue into the public consciousness, through channels of humor (dark, immature, or otherwise), then then have done a service to society.

    Are memes an effective response to surveillance? I believe they are. However, they can’t stand alone and require additional work on the part of the viewer to formulate an opinion and make the decision to take action.

  5. Great post! This was an interesting spin on the serious topic of privacy and surveillance. I’ve never minded memes. They can be funny while others are not, just like all things comedy. I think memes do bring humor to something serious which sometimes is a good thing but sometimes it isn’t. Is it good to be joking about something serious and showing people that it’s just a joke? I’m not sure. I do think laughter is a good coping and processing mechanism, though.

  6. Somewhat Less Secret Spy Guy

    I have always felt that when it comes to memes there are places and times when they are completely appropriate, and times when they are not. I feel that the content of a meme is inherently low on substance, meaning if the point one is trying to get across is a little more complex than a common image. Often times images are the best way to convey a message, but I do not feel that this occurs through memes. I feel that memes definitely have place for humor and coping, but I do think there are plenty of discussions in which memes have no place.

  7. I really enjoyed this post! I agree that memes help spread awareness, but I also agree with the point that Joe made in that memes alone aren’t really going to give people enough information to change or to even want a change the system that we have in our society. But memes are definitely a good start. Very good job!

  8. I enjoyed reading this post on this interesting topic. Memes do spread awareness especially to the younger democratic, but the message does tend to be one sided and not give a full understanding of the actual situation. But the meme does what it was intended to do, entertain.

  9. I really think this topic is interesting on how we use memes to cope or to make humor on serious topics. I do believe it brings awareness on a topic that is happening at the time but it doesn’t give you all the information about the topic. I do think that memes do spread very quick which is really good if people don’t know what is going on so that they can go find out more information on the topic.

  10. This was a very unique and interesting blog post! Really Great! I believe that memes do bring awareness because they are everywhere. They are also very easy to understand. Sometimes they can be inappropriate for the situation.But they do spread pretty fast so people will be able to see it and will be able to find more information about the topic.

  11. Memes for me can be amusing and enjoyable but at other times I’m just annoyed. However I do believe a meme has more of an effect than a couple paragraphs would. Just like everyone else has posted memes are everywhere its easy to find one, and the way the creators make memes out of touchy subjects to make it more understandable to people is amazing. This was a creative and unique post I enjoyed it very much great job!

  12. I think internet memes can be an effective way to raise awareness for serious issues while relating them to the general population. Although, I think they are most effective when people see them and decide to do further research. I know when I see a meme I don’t understand, I google whatever the subject is so that I am more informed. Overall, I do think they are a good way to raise awareness about serious issues such as privacy and surveillance. Great blog post!

  13. Very interesting post! I think that memes don’t mean anything in regards to any serious things. They aren’t meant to be serious, and they aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Some memes can be informative and useful but others can have no knowledge of the topic and serve no purpose with helping people understand what surveillance is.

  14. Really interesting blog post to read! I agree that memes help spread awareness/make issues more widespread and well known, fairly quickly. I sometimes like the humorous memes and think they can be funny, but there are certain things that shouldn’t be joked about that are often joked about so much that they become less serious. I think that memes can often make things easier to understand (because of their word choice and how little there actually is to read.)

  15. I really enjoyed this post. I find it effective that people post memes about surveillance, because some may not be aware. It wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary to make fun of the government since that’s been happening for a very long time with this country. Everyone has their own opinions though, so I definitely could see where this could make others mad. In essence, I’m just glad that the memes do exist, because they show the government that the people know and aware of the NSA’s actions.

  16. I think that this is an interesting post, and something I hadn’t really thought about. After reading, I completely agree with you that it is a way to cope. I also agree that it does help spread awareness about certain issues, while still keeping a serious issue very light and funny. I think that they also help make a complicated issue more simple and easy to understand.

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