Issue 8

From Reddit to Revolution: How Memes Propel Movements

In late January, Wall Street witnessed history. The stocks for GameStop, a retail chain in the United States that sells games and gaming consoles, shot up from being valued in the single dollars to hitting $347 per stock at its peak. This led to major losses for hedge funds who had shorted the stock, essentially betting large sums on its decline. The shift in stock value was caused by its mass-purchase by users on Reddit, a social networking platform. What initially started off as betting on GameStop stock in jest turned into a phenomenon fueled by anti-establishment sentiments. The internet memes littered through r/WallStreetBets (the subreddit at the heart of the situation) as well as other social media platforms played a critical role in spreading the joke and eventually, shaping what holding GameStop stock (GME) meant as a political statement. What is it about memes that can carry a movement – and how should it alter our understanding of the internet?

Internet memes are multimodal artifacts that are transformed by countless participants, through popular culture for public commentary. They serve as cultural commodities that represent public narratives at a point in history. Memes can also present visual arguments that discuss various ideological practices. Hence, they offer a mode of bidirectional communication in a social sphere–wherein they are shaped by, and actively shape, cultural discourse.  

The use of humor, in its various forms, is a critical feature of the internet meme. Humor is viewed as a means of establishing superiority or providing relief to oneself or others. Most critically, perhaps, it is understood as a medium to highlight incongruity in an environment. This position holds that to laugh is an intellectual activity, based on a psychological motivation to maintain consistency within one’s internal reference frames and external environment. When there is an inconsistency between an individual’s perception of the expected norm and an actual event, humor is used as a means to address the gap. The expression of dissent through humor, hence, becomes a frequently availed option. 

This was observed during the GameStop incident. The memes circulated about GameStop, hedge funds, and the stock market became a channel to challenge the financial systems of the United States, exacerbated economic inequalities, and the narrative of the ‘American dream’ – wherein an individual is deemed to be completely responsible for their own success or failure, regardless of the institutional frameworks that they operate within. 

Source: @OldPappyThomas, Twitter
Source: @herosvrdie69, Twitter

The element of humor in memes allows them to achieve popularity on the internet due to their “feel-good” factor. At the same time, they also contribute to the transfer of information and ideas that would traditionally fall under the realm of mainstream news cycles.

The dependence of memes on pop culture and humor has encouraged notions that they cheapen political discourse. However, this view has been rejected by those who argue that communication of political ideas through memes actually richen political conversations, due to their accessibility among the masses. Internet memes have hence ushered in an era of participatory media that exists as a direct retaliation to the exclusive, traditional media narratives that can be dictated by vested interests. 

Moreover, the circulation of memes also creates a sense of community among people in terms of their ideological leanings, values, and opinions. This consolidating feature of memes is critical to their role in propelling in-group unity, and consequently, action that pervades online spaces. The Occupy Wall Street Movement of 2011 stands testament to the ability of memes to contribute a movement on ground. Aimed at protesting economic inequality in the United States, OWS actively used internet memes to further its message, as well as to respond to developments during protests. Most notably, the event of a police officer pepper spraying peaceful OWS protestors was addressed by the creation of the ‘Pepper Spray Cop’ memes. The string of memes that followed commented on police brutality and protest etiquette, and brought attention to the irrationality of such actions through its depiction in humorous ways.

Source: KnowYourMeme

Internet memes, thus, have emerged as crucial tools that allow for ideological discourses to take place untethered among the masses. Their inherent humor accentuates the crux of several issues, often cutting through semantics that would be at play at the same coverage of events in traditional media. In this aspect, the use of internet memes can be viewed as a revolutionary phenomenon that transfers power to the people to voice their opinions. 

However, notions of nobility that surround the internet meme should be analyzed carefully. The same attributes of a meme that enable people to connect to its message – using humor to tackle incongruity, generating a sense of solidarity, and widening the scope for political engagement – can be utilized to propagate hateful ideas. A case in point is how Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign relied on viciously mocking Hillary Clinton through memes to generate a support base for itself. A meme, at the end of the day, is representative of the views of those who reproduce it. The political waves that any set of memes contribute to, hence, shape a phenomenon curated by their contents. The dissonance between different groups in real life will continue to exist online.

The contemporary potential of the internet meme pervades its original intent to provide its recipients with a laugh. The case of GameStop appropriately exhibits how memes can contribute to a movement, as well as drive it forward. While the United States financial system did not get reformed due to the GME surge, the incident has painted a lasting target on its back – with the possibility of landmark transformations at the horizon. 

Aarohi Sharma is a Psychology student at Ashoka University. Her academic interests primarily focus on the intersection of politics and psychology in society.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 8

Boomers’ Guide to Gen Z: Intro to Texting 101

Gen Z in its natural online habitat can seem intimidating and a little baffling. I would know, despite technically being a part of this generation, I spend more time than I’d like to admit deciphering it. If you’ve ever had to google what “afaik” or “iykyk” means then this is for you. Texting etiquette is central to Gen Z culture, highlighting how we’ve expertly moulded language to create communities and best express ourselves online. 

I’m risking my fragile membership by undermining the very first principle of Gen Z communication: don’t explain it. Two things happen then: first, it’s not as funny anymore and second, it may open up the community to potential detractors. Remember the wildfire term “on fleek”? as soon as it spread too far like on the Ellen Show, it immediately lost all its charm. 

Although there is no consensus on Gen Z’s age, suffice it to say that we don’t remember a time before the Internet. Most are already tired of Facebook after having joined back in school, instead migrating over to Instagram—away from constantly being tagged in embarrassing family photos. That said, we do simultaneously possess an instinctive understanding of this ‘culture’ while being unable to explain it to anyone or ourselves. So, here’s to trying: 

Let’s start simple: texting or calling? 

Easy, texting. Of course, as with anything, there are outliers who would disagree. However, it’s common practice to watch the phone ring into oblivion and then immediately text: “hey, you called?”. 

Texting unfolds throughout a busy day of multi-tasking. We text in windows between or during online classes, while taking a break or just in bed procrastinating sleep. That’s not to say we’re anti-calling, it just costs us an exponentially larger amount of effort given our waning attention spans. Texting is great for a quick dopamine fix and we’ve been wired to love the ring of a notification ever since some got their first smartphones at 12. When we call, we are required to focus on nothing but the person’s voice. In other words, it’s a big deal. So if a gen z-er in your life offers to call, take it as the ego-boost that it is. 

Now that we’re talking texting, what are some dos and don’ts?

Seen-zoning is a thing, and possibly a social weapon of war so, beware. 

This one is difficult to pin down, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it simply isn’t. In budding romantic relationships, leaving someone ‘on read’ is often a carefully cultivated art of courtship. For example: “I want to text them, but I don’t want them to think they’re all I think about. Wait, are they all I think about?” which can then spiral into dangerous overthinking territory. This rationale prompts some of us to leave texts unattended for a pre-selected range of hours. 

In new friendships, it can become a matter of not seeming too eager but eager enough. In unwanted interactions or advances, it’s often a retreat onto safer shores. Sometimes, it’s just thinking that you already replied or just not having the energy to tend to all your burgeoning messages. It’s safe to say that no one has those blue-ticks switched on anymore. 

Source: @jaboukie on Twitter

Ghosting, on the other hand, is a harsh reality when seen-zoning is taken to its extreme. This is when a person stops texting you cold-turkey, and fades away first from your phone and then life. Needless to say, this is the nuclear missile in your arsenal of social weapons: only last-resort, and always destructive.


Irony is the key 

Too many exclamation marks or emojis in one text is, as we like to say, just not it. However, if you do it ironically? That’s a different story. It’s a subtle art of balancing out the unassuming enthusiasm we encounter in family groups while showing that we’re not serious about it. For example, you’ll see gen z gravitating towards (too many) off-center emojis for the desired effect. 

To flip this over, some just won’t use any emojis at all. 

Instead, they’ll use 🙂 or a :)) or a ^___^ but rarely a 😀 and god forbid if someone goes for a xD unironically. They can all mean different things too, a 🙂 can be a naively friendly ending to a text, passive aggression or sometimes just plain anguish. 

Exhibit A: “i just got my 5th assignment of the day haha i love college :))))))))))” 

Translation: They don’t love college. 

Choose Your Own Case 

Notice the all lower-case register? This is for when you want to present yourself as nonchalant as it contains the non-verbal signal of informality. To achieve this, it’s best to blacklist autocorrect off your phone. 

Speaking of lower and upper-case, we like to switch things up or “sWiTch tHinGs uP”. This is the texting equivalent of siblings fighting when one mocks the other as soon as they turn away.


Gen Z humour is absurdist and cryptic. It’s gratifying to have something that only you and your friends can laugh at, while your parents shoot you their best “what did I do wrong” look. 

Source: posted by u/Explodernator343, Reddit

To Full-stop or Not to Full-stop

In a 2015 study, participants rated “texts that ended with a period as less sincere than those that did not” while no such difference was found for handwritten notes. This can be confusing: should one subvert grammatical rules for the sake of appearing amiable to a gen-zer? Linguist Lauren Collister calls herself a “code-switcher”, mirroring the texting tendencies of the recipient: if someone is informal, then she might drop the uppercase but if someone ends with a period, then she does too. 

The way we communicate is no less better or worse than how older generations used to—it’s just different. Every generation, be it the Boomers, Gen X or Millenials all created their own vocabulary, finding respite in the exclusivity of an inside joke. If Gen Z is starting to show the tell-tale signs of a cult, then you’re well on your way to understanding and maybe even moonlighting as one of us—grammatical warts and all. 

Devika is a second-year Economics and Media Studies major, an aspiring coffee-snob and always on the hunt for a new addition to her already overflowing to-be-read list.