Did we meme our way to Brexit?
Brexit. Can there be anything left to say? Trade agreements, negotiations, Norway, £350 million, Farage? No, probably not. However, once the result came in, I began to wonder whether all of this is actually my fault. ALL of it. Every single bit.
What would I say to my grandchildren, who’ll never actually exist, should they ask me what I did in the great Brexit war? “Well, my imaginary loves,” I might say, as I ruffle their wiry hair – hang on, these sound more like miniature schnauzers than grandchildren, excellent – “while others wrote important commentaries, packed with research, facts, and actual opinion, I tweeted. I did memes. I posted GIFs. I compared politicians taking part in debates to long-dead characters from Emmerdale. I contributed a level of political opinion that a toddler could come up with if left alone in a room with seven Post-its and a Sharpie long enough.” And now I’m left in the ruins of my own making.
At least when Nero fiddled, he made music. While my Rome blazed, all I did was hit RT, wanking despondently into my own echo chamber, along with everyone else dismissing Boris as a waxed gibbon, dissing his hair and his fake, bumbling stupidity without ever considering that a mere 30 miles from our self-satisfied jizz bubble, others were voting for change. Horrific, cataclysmic change that would have immediate devastating effect, but change all the same. How could I ever think this would go anything other than my way? I had MEMES.
Even as David Cameron resigned on Friday morning, I was tweeting pictures of Conservative MSP Ruth Davidson straddling the gun on a tank. Did I ever take this seriously? Did I ever wonder why the worst thing that could happen was actually happening? No. I slithered into my notifications and checked the numbers.
Ruth Davidson. NOW IS YOUR TIME. pic.twitter.com/oUKZyoaKqM
— The Guyliner (@theguyliner) June 24, 2016
And I wasn’t alone, was I? For every serious opinion about the implications of Brexit – itself a thirsty, meme-ready portmanteau as awkward as a thumbs-up from a vicar – there were screenshots of Nigel Farage with captions comparing him to a bullfrog 13 seconds away from autoerotic asphyxiation. Did we do this to ourselves? Did we meme and retweet our way into Brexit while everyone else got on with it? Did we fail to convince Leavers because we assumed our GIFs of Beyoncé pulling pizza out of her hair or a cat jumping away from a cucumber were enough?
Well, no, of course not.
Most of the ‘younger’ media, usually derided for listicles and “perfect responses”, has done an excellent job in first-on-the-scene reporting and breaking things down into terms I could understand. I am old, but my politics are not sophisticated: I stay quiet at dinner parties and use elections as an opportunity to sexlessly flirt with ballot station staff – especially if they’re women 20 years my senior.
All the bursts of information and reaction in 140 characters actually helped pull me in closer to what was happening. My political commentary over the last few months may have largely depended on memes and screengrabs of Gisela Stuart reminding everyone she was a mother, but at least I wasn’t ignoring the referendum entirely. And neither were the older generation, for entirely different reasons.
I may not have prevented the iceberg hitting the Titanic, but at least I caught some of it in my gin and tonic.
So why did I stick to Twitter soundbites rather than chucking my hat in the ring and giving a forthright, in-depth analysis? No idea how. It’s beyond me. Powerless. I have no teeth. I mean, look at the state of this, that you’re reading now. It has all the gravitas of a McFlurry. It’s a total state. I try and do politics and nothing but silly string and squirty cream comes out of my fingers.
Many of us couldn’t debate the intricacies of the various trade implications or the effect on the economy and our laws, but we could unite in thinking Nigel Farage looked like a melted Solero.
Oh, and I voted. My social media engagement walked the walk. It’s more than you can say for plenty of other people half my age.
— The Guyliner (@theguyliner) June 24, 2016
We were preaching to the converted anyway. Hardly any media, old or new, went off piste, popped their head over the parapet and said “now hang the fuck on, do you not see what might happen here?” outside of their natural comfort zone. Not until it was too late, anyway, when the first mushroom cloud dispersed, only to give way to a clearer view of the seventeen further, bigger mushroom clouds ballooning in the distance. Batman! Robin! To the portmanteaus! And so Regrexit was born.
Even the thought of Kelvin MacKenzie’s aggressive pro-Brexit diatribe turning to ashes in his mouth was scant comfort. By the time he dribbled in his Sun column that he may have made a mistake, many Leavers who’d exerted their democratic right had tired of it. They had shot their load and rolled off, leaving the rest of us in the wet patch, urgently trying to finger our way to completion.
All we can do now is screengrab the racist tirades, tweet about the attacks, retweet the shame, sign petitions, pretend we understand what Article 50 actually is (not a prog rock band, apparently) and quote the stupid things pretty much everyone in the House of Commons is saying right now. Because we don’t have any other form of protest. Taking to the streets doesn’t work, except as a photo opportunity to make tweets about it more shareable. Is a keyboard in lieu of a burning torch such a bad thing? Maybe memes will save us after all. So long as we actually, you know, vote.
I don’t know what happens next. I’m not supposed to. This is unscripted reality at its finest and most heinous. But come People’s Republic of Britain but Not Including Scotland or lifelong servitude to our directive-loving overlords at the EU, we will always have memes. Nobody can take them away from us. Although maybe they should. Pls RT.
This image was cropped, you can see the original here.