One of the most entertaining means of spearheading a conversation about current events exists, frustratingly enough, outside of the realm of traditional media.
This mysterious medium through which so much—or in some cases, so little of value— is transferred is referred to as the meme. You see them all the time, often on people’s Facebook or Twitter pages. They entail all sorts of images with terse messages, commenting glibly on things like Albertan Politics, on pages like “Meanwhile in Alberta,” or even the cutesy cat pictures people love to fawn all over.
Most of the time, they’re entertaining. However, they are just as susceptible as any other means of transferal of information, to being bent towards dishonest, shortsighted political purposes.
People get on their soapbox — or if they are self-righteous enough, up on their high horse — and turn what can be a fun and irreverent thing into something scathing and didactic. No more so, when it comes to memes that allude to politically charged events.
I usually get a chuckle, or an opportunity to exercise the muscles in my skull that roll my eyes, when seeing most memes. They are a nice diversion from the humdrum of routine. The other day, however, while browsing my assorted social media accounts, I stumbled across one that ticked me off. It feels really petty to be talking about how petulant I am over something I saw on the Internet, but bear with me!
Picture a photo, juxtaposing two scenes that are clear in recent collective memory. The first was one of many photos of war-torn Syria, and the second was a snapshot of the protests against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, at the Standing Rock protest site — specifically a number of people getting maced by those tasked with dispersing the protesters.
That particular image, to explain a little better, was an attempt to compare the chemical weapons that the Assad regime has now sunk to using on its own citizens…to the pepper spray used as a painful deterrent against protesters, at Standing Rock — you know, as if there were any real similarities there.
Where do I even begin, if I want to break down what’s wrong with that? To start with, there is no solution to either of those problems that can be found in emotionally-charged apples-and-oranges comparisons.
World events are messy— they are complicated, nuanced matters. They can’t be reduced to a simplistic diptych, forcing us to create exaggerated parallels between them. There are all sorts of facts that get distorted and lost, when you start trying to reduce a complex problem to an emotionally-charged narrative for the sake of more easily winning people to whatever you particular social or political cause is.
Secondly, pepper spray is painful. It burns your eyes, make your airways sting, and hurts like hell— but that’s it. I’ve had a small amount come into contact with me, and that’s something I need only to have happen once to understand how much it sucks.
As much as pepper spray hurts, it doesn’t actually inflict any lasting damage, itself — as much as it stings, it’s meant to deter, not kill from the inside out. It only feels like it’s burning you.
Sarin, on the other hand — the literal nerve gas that Assad had his army drop indiscriminately on civilians and militants who opposed him in the form of bombs — is specifically designed to kill people. It originally was formulated in Germany as a type of pesticide. Take from that what you will.
It’s beyond preposterous and scarily irresponsible to compare those two — even in the confines of an image on your Facebook page. It’s as insane as those people (and we all know someone who does this) who rush to call politicians who do something they don’t like “the next Hitler!”
To compare the violent thrashing of a dictatorship being challenged to the strife over a pipeline that got the legal go-ahead and made some people angry, is ridiculous.
I’m not going to comment on who is “right,” or “wrong” in the case of Standing Rock, and I’m not going to go into any more detail on Syria because that’s all outside the scope of this piece.
The situations in both Syria and North Dakota are important era-defining conversations — we should be talking about them. But instead of posting dramatic image macros juxtaposing events like that and drawing absurd, unrealistic parallels, we should deal in good old tried-and-true facts.