Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Election themes and Internet Memes

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins posited the notion of memes – ideas that replicate. A meme is a device which passes on cultural ideas, themes, thoughts, even emotions, via some simple recognisable icons or symbols in much the same way as genes replicate biological characteristics. Memes can even mutate and in a sense evolve and as a result the feelings they provoke can be transmitted from one individual to others, appropriated and misappropriated, often in unintended ways. The Internet is a perfect breeding ground for memes, and the name has attached to those handy sound-bite pics where a quotation is coupled with a picture to convey a misleading message.

Isabel Hardman in The Spectator has written about one such series of images and how they can be manipulated to tell a story which – true or not – stirs up the outrage on those conveyor belts of hurt that are Twitter and Facebook. So powerful are the effects on those who willingly suspend normal critical faculties online that the picture-meme is already becoming a major tool in the battle for the general election in 2015. It’s an absolute gift for the activists who have nothing better to do than paint their opponents in the worst possible light.

Forget policy, forget facts; in politics perception is everything and perception can be manipulated much more easily with a simple lie than with a whole Hansard of verifiable truths. Thus with Cameron, Osborne, Balls and Miliband all but agreeing to choose the NHS as the battlefield for the next election, expect a spate of unchallenged, statistically-backed, facts-lite images that variously claim: That the Tories are selling the NHS to their rich friends, that Labour already did, that thousands of people will die due to Tory cruelty, that Andy Burnham’s death squads will roam again, that spending is being raised, that spending is being cut, that blah blah blah blah blah…

True Story
Abe tells it best

I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see a single verifiable account of a Tory actually prising a toddler’s mouth open to steal food. Or of a Labourite actually donning a Mao suit and calling for the execution of intellectuals. But then, like you, I rarely let the truth get in the way of a good story and I’m looking forward to seeing how far each side's supporters can go to create fantasy myths about impending death of the NHS . But be warned; I’ve checked and it appears the NHS is bigger by far than any government and has to date survived every imagined attempt to kill it off, while it has abetted the downfall of any who would use it as a political weapon.

So, bring it on, fellas, there is a willing army of dreamers ready and receptive to believe almost every last thing you want to tell them about how very few days the fragile behemoth will survive under one or other administration. Meanwhile the top ten boy’s name in Britain is no longer Oliver (Oliver, really?) as of the last count it is, as predicted, mohammed. Get meming!

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