Viral Memes in a Time of Quarantine 


Over the past three weeks I’ve used memes like an optic salve. Sometimes they soothe, inducing laughter, bringing a necessary emotional release. Other times memes deliver a brief sting—the truth buried within their healing properties can go deep.  

During this quarantime, I am grateful for the selective surroundings I’ve curated on my social media. I see friends uplifting the voices of immunocompromised folks who have been organizing mutual aid groups and pushing for more accessible virtual meetings long before we were in crisis.  I’ve been educated on the hard work of housing justice organizers, particularly strategies on coalition building for rent strikes. Still, there are times I get lost in a sea of sensationalized headlines, one reason why the memes that also circulate are a critical tool for communication.      

Consider this visual exercise in handwashing. The accompanying message points to; fear of the virus, of mainstream media or any formation of anxiety we may be experiencing amidst a global pandemic. Some may recognize the message as a passage from Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune. Let this meme become your entrance into the mindful portals that washing our hands can bring. 

This (rightward) meme is super rich with anticolonial messages.  We see Pocahontas squirting hand sanitizer at John Smith. In the original Disney film, this scene depicts John Smith “teaching” Pocahontas how to greet someone with a handshake. This image inverts the white, European savior narrative, pointing to the diseases these settlers brought to indigenous people during colonization.

I consider myself an introvert. Living in big cities my whole life, I’m often seeking out environments where I can tuck myself into a nook and explore feelings and ideas, alone. When the CDC recommended shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders for a large portion of the countryI was confronted with the unexpected discomfort of long stretches of partial isolation, as I try my best to follow quarantine protocols. It is important to recognize that ‘safe at home’ is not a reality for everyone. If you do have space of your own and have the privileges of comfort and boredom, check-in with friends and family often, particularly if you know someone who is living with their domestic abuser.   

 

In 1981, artist David Wojnarowicz, wore this jacket on the left at a demonstration, in response to the devastating mismanagement of action (and in-action) during the AIDS epidemic. The pink triangle is representative of the activist group ACT UP. Dr. Fauci, current Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was appointed to this position at the time, as a lead advisor to President Reagan. The image on the right was created by Housing Works, a non-profit that addresses the current dual crises of homelessness and AIDS. Mara-a-Lago refers to the Palm Beach Florida resort, owned by and considered a second-home to President Donald Trump.     

Many celebrities are using their internet platforms to connect with fans amidst COIVD-19, and some, like Britney Spears, are sharing messages about the instability of our capitalist society. Spears re-posted an activist’s statement on her Instagram account that calls for us to “redistribute wealth” and “strike.” The internet took this as a sign, referring to her (often eluding in jest) as “Comrade Spears.” Many millennials, (a demographic that is experiencing heavy financial hardship during this crisis) grew up with Britney Spears and witnessed her evolution from teen pop icon to a widely publicized breakdown. We don’t know for sure if Britney shares our politics, but memes like this help us to split open the illusions of capitalist ideals, pushing for people in power to lift up the voices of workingclass folks who the system leaves behind to fend for ourselves.    

These are difficult times of great uncertainty.  Today I read a recent message from White Eagle, Hopi indigenous, that includes; “This moment humanity is going through can be seen as a portal and as a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the portal is up to you…But if you take this opportunity to look at yourself, rethink life and death, take care of yourself and others, you will cross the portal. Take care of your home, take care of your body….There is a social demand in this crisis, but there is also a spiritual demand.”

The last meme I wish to leave you wish is one that always makes me smile. Stay curious, especially in moments of discomfort. Use these tools to stay social, but most of all, remember to connect with your self.

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