Dadaism, along other art and philosophy movements, state that ‘art is dead’. Isn’t that the same message we receive from our average meme in our digital feed, though? Is dadaism making a comeback through internet meme culture? In this article, we will look deeper into this subject.
What are memes really?
To avoid confusion, from this point forward, we will refer to the viral images we often find and crave in social media as “internet memes”.
Memes, in the strict sense of the word, are a concept introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976, in his book “The Selfish Gene“. A meme, much like a gene, is a unit of information, in this case, of cultural nature; which can be subjected to tests originated by shifts in the collective landscape such as global events and, depending on its relevance and validity, can be spread and passed down to the next generations. It is possible, for example, that no Socrates‘ genes exist anymore, but his ideas have transcended his physical existence and shaped a large part of western society.
Internet memes, while related to the former concept, are a whole different story. Internet memes are a type of meme that tend to be visual representations of opinions, reactions, or sentiments that become viral in social media and other online outlets because of their take on society and general relatability; their common format is that of an image macro and a catchphrase. This imagery ranges from wholesome, family-friendly humor to dark, edgy, surrealistic and almost unsettling, The way they are made and employed is very reminiscent of several art forms, including dadaism. Which leads to the next question:
Is Dadaism still alive in modern culture?
To be able to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the Dada movement. Dadaism was a movement born from the horrors of WWI, from a group of artists to whom the current state of the world deemed humanity unworthy of art, therefore art is dead; as such, dadaist artists of the time took pride in presenting works as far from aesthetically pleasing as possible, as a form of mockery to the artists who held classical and neoclassical values.
Dada is a very interesting object of study, and this is why it is common to find academic replications of works identified with the movement, but with a celebratory intent; this is considered post-dadaism. This arises another subject: when thinking about dadaism as a meme, an idea to be spread and evolve, it’s easy to think about internet memes as dada; in a way they meet the criteria to become the next embodiment of dadaism. But…
Can internet memes be considered dadaist art?
As it happens very often, the counterculture at any given time finds itself between the cross-hairs of society, and eventually some elements of it seep into the ‘memetic pool’ until they start to form part of the current mainstream. This never ending cycle is visible in internet memes, which transitioned from a wholesome form of celebratory comedy on society and people’s reactions to it, to a completely ironic and dark form of mockery to these; then came along a post-ironic movement, in which the former mockery is celebrated, boundaries are as diffuse as they can be and the phrase “so bad it’s good” takes a digital form.
But to talk about dadaism in internet memes, we have to take into account that most of the media produced online seems not to be intended as art or anti-art, not intentionally at least, but since art in itself can be unintentional, this can be interpreted either way. Also, the thing about post-ironic memes is that they become hard to categorize; since they’re very open to interpretation, it’s hard to tell whether they are made with humor or anti-humor intent, if they are made with a deeper meaning or message or they’re a phony.
There’s also another point in the power that current technology has given virtually to anyone to design and create. We are at a point in which it’s easy to think that, by having infinite elements to create, everything is already made and any intent of creation would be mere rearranging of preexisting elements, so the creative endeavor is pointless. This phenomenon is evident in (but does not limit to) all the subcultures derived from plunderphonics (Vaporwave as a counterculture that both celebrates and mocks the ’90s, and heavy sampling of almost any source in modern music, for instance) but this matter is worth a separate, deeper analysis.
As an ending note, here are some statements worth to think about: Dadaism, in a manner of speaking, is a meme in itself. Internet memes are also essentially dadaist, although, even when they mock society openly, their main intention is far from destabilizing the current schemes as they are the current scheme. Is this subject worth a deeper analysis? Maybe we are over-analyzing a meaningless subject, but hey, it’s worth for the memes, right?