This election I am avoiding political news ON PURPOSE.
Please don’t judge me too harshly! I usually do try to keep up. It’s important to do so. After all,didn’t Jefferson say, “where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe”?
That might not be his best known quote on the subject, but he did say it, and I believe he was right. These days though, I sympathize more with the Jefferson who swapped newspapers “for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid” and declared himself “much happier.” He had good reasons to do so. After all, Jefferson was a punching bag for the partisan press during and after his presidency.
I don’t claim a similar distinction. Public office is not my calling. I’m also fairly inconspicuous and that probably won’t change … unless I start ranting about body art. Yet these days I’d rather read “The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer” than spend time watching the candidates debate on television. They didn’t even invite Gary Johnson or Roseanne Barr, so why should I watch a debate between two candidates when I know that there are others on the ballot as well?
Nope. I’d rather read about cancer than watch the debates. All I can say for myself is that I can’t stand the mudslinging. It depresses me more than reading about cancer. I also have an aversion for gutters, and, since Republicans and Democrats are wallowing in both, I’m completely turned off.
Do I miss out? Of course I do. I end up finding out about all the fun election happenings when I see the memes on Facebook. And that’s the one thing that actually fascinates me. I am enamored with this LOL Cats version of American politics that Ari Melber, at The Nation, has dubbed the “Meme Election.” Inevitably, someone will say that translating every ill-conceived political comment into a meme trivializes politics. I don’t subscribe to that view. Some of these images have really made me think about issues that matter to me and that would matter even more if I could vote and felt useful. For instance, I found an image of Dora the Explorer popping out from a binder. She looks like a genie emerging from a bottle. The image’s caption reads “Women for Self-deportation.”
That gave me something to think about. But, what exactly is this “Meme Election”? To me, it is a contest of meanings, where people use fairly accessible technologies to share interpretations of issues that matter to them, and I think this is an important development. Melber put it best; these memes bypass traditional channels, like the media. They put forth alternative interpretations that would be unavailable otherwise.
“Ex-hippy Uncle Nate,” the girl with the full sleeve tattoo and the loan officer at the bank could be contributing more to political debate than we might realize, so think about that as you make your way to the polls in November.
Cyanara Medina is a visiting professor in the department of communication.