Ann Friedman - Is this a meme?

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Ann Friedman Weekly
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This week
A quick reminder that I'm accepting applications until Monday for the next round of fellowships with this newsletter. Here are all the details. Scroll on down to enjoy an excellent piece of writing by one of my current fellows, Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, who parses what is and isn't a climate-change meme.

I'm reading
What's not in a name? Thu-Huong Ha explores the power dynamics of naming and re-naming: "For better or worse, we’re given our names, and we figure out how to deal. And in the US, some are dealt more, and deal more, than others."

Kim Brooks on people who are raising children in intentional communities, with some interesting glimpses of the rhetoric of family abolition. I'll offer a caveat about the white lens of this piece, as many cultures have long raised children more communally than the white, middle-class American norm. Recommended book pairing: Mia Birdsong's How We Show Up

Chess Bradley's essay on transition lenses, small stigmas, and what it means to make sartorial choices that prioritize your health and wellbeing. How do you hold on to your sexuality in the face of a world that wants to de-sexualize you for those choices?

Mother Jones has a package of articles about how work has become unbearable for most workers, from Comcast employees and Instacart shoppers to Amazon managers and ER nurses. Plus: The preferred nomenclature is "low-wage," not "low-skill."

"In a perfect world, I would have loved to go through a guided trip and go through this psychologist or a shaman or someone who has a lot more knowledge. But the only ones who can afford it are the rich people who live in million-dollar condos. Not us. We have to find ways of doing the medicina.” Roberto Lovato reports on the gentrification of consciousness.


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I’m looking & listening
Shattering Gleam, a new podcast about music and gender. Dorothea Lange's photos of US incarceration camps for Japanese Americans went largely unseen for decades. B-roll of the US Mint making Maya Angelou quarters.

GIFspiration
Ronnie Spector, in a white suit and beehive hair, holding a microphone, performs in black and white. In the background, the two Ronettes wear matching white suits and shimmy.

Climate-Culture: Is This a Meme?
This is the fifth in a series of micro-essays on the meeting of culture and climate by Shanti Escalante-De Mattei. Shanti is one of two inaugural AF WKLY writing fellows whose work is supported by paying members of this newsletter. NB: I'm accepting applications for 2022 fellows until Monday! -AF

By Shanti Escalante-De Mattei
 

A few years ago I started saving climate change memes, mostly on Instagram. This gave my infinite scroll a kind of raison d'etre which, in turn, fed my social media addiction. My hundreds of saved memes, alas, failed to manifest into a brilliant paper about the nature of human mythmaking during the apocalypse, or… something. But as I’ve returned to this weird archive I’ve come to appreciate the mediated record that memes are. They are lovely condensed packages of time and place, culture and discourse, a kind of internet body language: ready to be read into, maybe even over-analyzed. 

 

At first, though, I couldn’t glean any meaning from them. All this digital ephemera just seemed to be a reflection of reality, a funhouse mirror of the daily news. With each crisis came a new batch of memes, temporally grounded in the reigning format of the moment. Memes asking for change or condemning inaction, depicting rivers drying or 60 degree weather in December. Outdated and lost to the ether, like so much folk art made of wood and cloth.

 

But as I looked closer, it was interesting to see how you could almost smell the age divides coming off these memes. They seemed to accurately track different generations’ approaches, both political and emotional, to the climate crises. Boomers share memes about holy nature taking over the earth once the human species is gone (for example, they were earnest proponents of “We are the virus”). Millennials make memes about anxiety. And Zoomermemes are about the guillotine and capitalism, plus catharsis-oriented funny fried shit. 

 

The archived memes that I found to be the most exciting, though, were those that let me in on a specific viewpoint that I wouldn’t normally come across, cutting through the algorithm sludge to pierce my personal bubble. @jerrygogosian, an account run by a globetrotting art-world insider, made a great meme about how art institutions use sustainability as a gimmick to increase profits, which, in turn, means… increasing their carbon footprint. @feralmeme is an account run by a diehard anarcho-primitivist whose memes first introduced me to the history and literature of direct ecological action, not to mention the lifestyle of the modern luddite. As opposed to the bias-confirming, generationally divided rehashing of blame, guilt, and anxiety, these memes lent new shades of nuance and complexity to my understanding of climate change. 

 

Sometimes, however, identifying a climate change meme isn’t so simple. Should the term apply to anything that bears the mark of the anthropocene? Is this a climate change meme? Is this? What about this?

 

The truth is that everything is a climate change meme, because each meme is a reflection of modern life, which is a reflection of this moment in the geologic timeline when everything began to collapse. It’s more complex than generational stereotypes, and less depressing than a straightforward reflection of the news. These memes matter in the way body language matters. They are the digital version of that weird look you gave me, the way you crossed your arms, how you held me a bit tighter because you wanted to keep talking. Except this is a body language of a plural you. So how are we all feeling? Keep telling me.
 

Find more of Shanti's work here, and follow her on Twitter.


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