The political landscape is dire. An unpredictable demagogue is the President-elect of the USA; Britain is navigating the bumpy uncertainties of Brexit; the murky presence of the ‘alt-right’ lingers on the internet; and each day seems to bring news of death, intolerance and tragedy occurring across the world. As a result, it appears that the personality of the memes we consume has come to mirror that of our political situation – downcast, disillusioned and depressed – that is, until the recent rise of ‘wholesome memes’, a radically-positive new movement on the ‘memescape’.
Until now, the meme orthodoxy has been that of relatable or ironic memes which usually pick up on negative feelings and the situations we experience, applying them to pop culture references, familiar images, and famous characters such as SpongeBob Squarepants, Arthur the Aardvark and Kermit the Frog. Attaching meaning and putting dark spins onto previously banal images is what makes these memes so funny: there is something unexpected and thus hilarious about them.
Traditional memes lament romantic failure, unhealthy lifestyle choices, social awkwardness, demotivation and old friends who have since become ‘snakes’ – struggles to which we can all relate in some way. These memes validate our inner procrastinator, the same inner character who is nervous in social situations, has petty thoughts and fails to wake up on time for lectures; a character who does not get much airtime in traditional media. This validation is affirming and makes for good amusement. However, in the process of representing the relatable negative parts of our personalities, traditional memes have failed to provide positive relatable content. This is where wholesome memes come in.
Wholesome memes are rooting for you, they want you to succeed and they celebrate the love you have for your friends, family and significant others. They are funny because they take traditional meme templates and subvert expectations by putting positive spins on them, twisting familiar meme situations into expressions of love and respect. Wholesome memes do not oblige the self-hating narrative that the traditional memescape focuses on, instead emphasising the relatability of appreciating your parents, wanting to provide emotional support to your loved ones, noticing the beauty of the world around you, receiving affection and leading a healthy lifestyle – things to which we also frequently relate.
Moreover, wholesome memes are symptomatic of a broader online movement of posting ‘pure’ content. Groups such as ‘p u r e p o s t’ on Facebook are great resources for this, featuring wholesome memes, cute videos of animals, people sharing stories of good things that happened to them and so on. In an online climate of abuse, violent imagery and hate speech, these groups serve as hubs of happiness, self-care and positive thinking.
Before August 2016, wholesome memes were a relatively obscure part of the internet, but there has been a huge surge in interest in the topic since, with the most Google searches of the term occurring in the weeks following Donald Trump’s election. This tells us that in a time where political discourse is increasingly vitriolic and negative, people do not want their online entertainment forums to follow the same course, instead seeking solace in positive, apolitical and ‘pure’ content.
In harsh political climates, there is something exciting and amusing about wholeheartedly embracing positivity and emphasising our appreciation towards the people around us, especially when this is manifested in the clever humour of memes. The emergence of wholesome memes is thus a very welcome phenomenon. At most, an antidote to our dire political prospects; at least, a temporary escapism.
Image Credit: @honevbee