Loading...

Make America Meme Again

The Rhetoric of the Alt-Right

by Heather Suzanne Woods (Author) Leslie A. Hahner (Author)
Textbook XIV, 258 Pages
  • Library Access

Table Of Content


Heather Suzanne Woods
and Leslie A. Hahner

Make America Meme Again

The Rhetoric of the Alt-Right

About the authors

Heather Suzanne Woods is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Technology at Kansas State University. Her research centers on rhetorics of futurity and innovation. She is published in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Feminist Media Studies, Present Tense, and Teaching Media Quarterly.

Leslie A. Hahner is Associate Professor of Communication at Baylor University. Her work explores how the visual shapes public culture. She is the author of To Become an American. Her work appears in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and other outlets.

About the book

As demonstrated by the 2016 presidential election, memes have become the suasory tactic par excellence for the promotional and recruitment efforts of the Alt-right. Memes are not simply humorous shorthands or pithy assertions, but play a significant role in the machinations of politics and how the public comes to understand and respond to their government and compatriots. Using the tools of rhetorical criticism, the authors detail how memetic persuasion operates, with a particular focus on the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump. Make America Meme Again reveals the rhetorical principles used to design Alt-right memes, outlining the myriad ways memes lure mainstream audiences to a number of extremist claims. In particular, this book argues that Alt-right memes impact the culture of digital boards and broader public culture by stultifying discourse, thereby shaping how publics congeal. The authors demonstrate that memes are a mechanism that proliferate white nationalism and exclusionary politics by spreading algorithmically through network cultures in ways that are often difficult to discern. Alt-right memes thus present a significant threat to democratic praxis, one that can begin to be combatted through a rigorous rhetorical analysis of their power and influence. Make America Meme Again illuminates the function of networked persuasion for scholars and practitioners of rhetoric, media, and communication; political theorists; digital humanists; and anyone who has ever seen, crafted, or proliferated a meme.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

Acknowledgments

This project began over a series of frenetic text messages, each attempting to make sense of the new landscape of digital propaganda. Both of us were trying to understand how our mediated friends and family members could fall so easily for obviously dubious persuasive tactics. As more information unfolded, we found that we, too, had been courted by such communiqués—this time by (at least) targeted messages from Russia’s Internet Research Agency. We also discovered that we were compelled to name and analyze what was happening—we could not sit idly by and not use our skills to help citizens grapple with ongoing information wars. Our individual areas of expertise, historical uses of propaganda, visual rhetoric, digital ecosystems, and algorithmic amplification, enabled us a certain level of know-how, but also provided us enough background information to underscore how much more we, and the general public, needed to learn about the new landscape of psychological operations. We have learned much over the course of this project. There is still much to discover and we hope that this project is a beginning, one that invests in areas of research that require ongoing and robust analysis.

We have quite a few folks to thank for helping us complete this project. First, we would like to thank Kathryn Harrison, who saw potential in this project and kept us invested in the work and the vision of Peter Lang and the←xi | xii→ Frontiers in Political Communication series. We are also deeply indebted to Mitchell S. McKinney and Mary E. Stuckey. Both of these editors devoted themselves to bettering this project and understood our goals and insights—sometimes better than we did. This project is stronger from their astute guidance and energetic support.

Colleagues at both of our home institutions have enabled the success of this book. At Baylor, Scott Varda was a precise editor who dropped everything to help us when we needed it. He is a champion of good scholarship and we could not have finished this project without him. Fielding Montgomery and Alden Conner contributed significant time and effort to helping us finish this project. David Schlueter facilitated our efforts by finding us resources and time to do the work. Martin J. Medhurst, as always, offered his wisdom and insights whenever we needed it. The College of Arts and Sciences also supplied Leslie Hahner with leave time to engage this book. Theresa Varney Kennedy, Kara Poe Alexander, and Beth Allison Barr bettered early work for this project through their wonderful advice. The women’s writing group started by Lisa Shaver buoyed this endeavor when it could have rested in the doldrums of Leslie Hahner’s associate professorship. At Kansas State University, the intellectual community comprised of Soumia Bardhan, Soo-Hye Han, Tim Shaffer, Travis Smith, William James Taylor (JT), Darren Epping, and Craig Brown inspired deep thinking about communication’s democratic possibilities. Alex McVey critiqued early (and also late) drafts of several chapters, and challenged us to carefully imagine a future, mediated politics. Greg Paul and Melissa Winkel supported the project logistically, often in pivotal, behind-the-scenes ways. Jakki Mattson provided critical research for chapters one and four, while also serving as a sounding board for ideas. Colene Lind and Sarah Riforgiate gave really good advice. Natalie Pennington was a thoughtful interlocutor and advocate. Joe Koehle shared dank memes (and how to find them). At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Kumi Silva provided excellent advice (as always).

We are also thankful to scholars across our field who helped us through productive conversations and advice. We are particularly grateful to Heather Ashley Hayes, Casey Ryan Kelly, Ryan Milner, Damien Pfister, Jonathan Carter, Rachel Winter, Emily Winderman, Atilla Hallsby, and Dustin Greenwalt. As well, Jennifer Coates Millard was an astute and rigorous copyeditor for early work in this project. We are likewise grateful for the legal services and advice of John Cook, who is brilliant and helpful, as per usual.←xii | xiii→

This project is inspired by our students. It could not exist without the scholarly fruit harvested from the relationships between teachers and students. In particular, students from Heather Woods’ Contemporary Rhetorical Theory graduate class and undergraduate classes in Rhetoric in Western Thought and The Rhetoric of Social Movements studied memes alongside us, participating in the struggles and delights of rhetorically engaging an emerging genre of political discourse. Calvin Horne and Jeremy Williams shared with us several of the memes referenced in this volume. Students in Leslie Hahner’s Theories and Methods of Visual Communication supplied astute observations about digital propaganda. We have also learned from one another as teacher and student, each occupying both roles in various ways throughout our tenures. We continue to learn from our students and endeavor to give them our very best insights on pressing matters. This work has helped us reach toward that end and reminded us to continually wrestle with the ever-changing conditions of late capitalism. Ultimately, then, we dedicate this project to those who would fight for radical changes in the worlds in which we live, to the people’s victory over hegemonic interests. We are far from that future, but we can use our rhetorical skills to invent new pathways toward it.←xiii | xiv→ ←xiv | 1→

Introduction

Alt-Right Memes and Networks of Public Discourse

Heading into the 2018 midterms, a number of heavy-hitting financiers began to invest in the persuasive power of viral media. The New York Times reported that a wealth of enterprising liberals were raising money to fight for voters via those modes of communication at the forefront of political campaigns—spreadable content.1 New organizations such as Stand Up America joined forces with older social media groups such as The Other 98 % and Civic Ventures to generate social media dispatches that might bolster democratic candidates and issues. Reid Hoffman, one of the creators of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, of Zynga, founded Win the Future, a group aiming to turn “user-generated” messages into Washington, D.C. billboards.2 Social media users formed Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, and Tumblr feeds to sway constituents. Companies hired meme designers to fashion aspiring viral messages.3 Such efforts demonstrate how the battle for public opinion and political candidacies is focused on harnessing the opportunities of social media. Such investments follow the 2016 election in which conservative, often vicious, memetic imagery played a significant part in the outcomes. Indeed, the vast majority of viral social media messages toward the end of the election were either pro-Trump or anti-Clinton.4 Post-election, bolstering the reach of digital content entrenches the battle to win the hearts and clicks of voters.←1 | 2→

Summary

As demonstrated by the 2016 presidential election, memes have become the suasory tactic par excellence for the promotional and recruitment efforts of the Alt-right. Memes are not simply humorous shorthands or pithy assertions, but play a significant role in the machinations of politics and how the public comes to understand and respond to their government and compatriots. Using the tools of rhetorical criticism, the authors detail how memetic persuasion operates, with a particular focus on the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump. Make America Meme Again reveals the rhetorical principles used to design Alt-right memes, outlining the myriad ways memes lure mainstream audiences to a number of extremist claims. In particular, this book argues that Alt-right memes impact the culture of digital boards and broader public culture by stultifying discourse, thereby shaping how publics congeal. The authors demonstrate that memes are a mechanism that proliferate white nationalism and exclusionary politics by spreading algorithmically through network cultures in ways that are often difficult to discern. Alt-right memes thus present a significant threat to democratic praxis, one that can begin to be combatted through a rigorous rhetorical analysis of their power and influence. Make America Meme Again illuminates the function of networked persuasion for scholars and practitioners of rhetoric, media, and communication; political theorists; digital humanists; and anyone who has ever seen, crafted, or proliferated a meme.

Details

Pages
XIV, 258
ISBN (PDF)
9781433159756
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433159763
ISBN (Softcover)
9781433182051
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433159749
Language
English
Publication date
2019 (February)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XIV, 258 pp., 9 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Heather Suzanne Woods (Author) Leslie A. Hahner (Author)

Heather Suzanne Woods is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Technology at Kansas State University. Her research centers on rhetorics of futurity and innovation. She is published in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Feminist Media Studies, Present Tense, and Teaching Media Quarterly. Leslie A. Hahner is Associate Professor of Communication at Baylor University. Her work explores how the visual shapes public culture. She is the author of To Become an American. Her work appears in the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and other outlets.

Previous

Title: Make America Meme Again