Memes, Clever Sound Bytes, & Funny Pictures – “Discourse” in an Entertainment Culture


I saw this on facebook today:

Wow, where to start? (Wonka, it is hard to dissect your argument since I can’t hear myself think over the sound of your condescension. Who wants less science and more religion in schools? Who is this even directed at? Is it a fair summary of a particular groups’ thought?…..)

The source for information about Romney’s now (apparently) infamous “airplane windows” comment was:

I had already seen a number of these sarcastic memes scroll by and was becoming irritated.

Here’s another:

(Waitress talking to captain, temper tantrum, puzzled look, is any of this true?)

After some googling, I found this Snopes article:

The article included the video clip in question and the conclusion by Snopes that “…his tone and phrasing pretty clearly indicated that he intended the line to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek aside rather than as a serious statement.” (despite Rachel Maddow’s haughty, idiotic protestation).

It isn’t this particular instance of falsity that bothers me, but rather the growing trend in which almost all of our meaningful public discourse comes to us in careless, thoughtless, specious little bytes of entertainment.

Serious question: Do you think that these clever political memes/quips/quotes/pictures help or hinder the public discourse?

They nearly always present skewed, biased, incomplete, or out of context information, they nearly always have sources for the “facts” they claim to offer, and due to the nature of the medium, they nearly always make truncated, over-simplified, and logically fallacious arguments, either overt or more often merely implied.

Since only one person creates the clip, quip, or meme, and the other million people merely pass it along, you have a million people who shared what is likely to be false, skewed, fallaciously argued, illogical, or out of context information without thinking about it, checking sources, or being able to argue the point on their own.

Finally, with the information moving in the form of little entertaining pictures or sound bites, is any further discussion or thought often sparked? On the contrary, most of the time it merely encourages those who think they agree with the information or implied argument to nod their head and accept it and those who disagree to shake their head and ignore it, with neither party giving any more thought than that.

Everyday on Facebook or Twitter, you might see hundreds of these little bits of information scroll by. Some will make you chuckle, some will probably make you sigh in frustration; In my opinion they all make you a little dumber and a little numb-er.

We need real conversation, real logical thought processes, real fact-checking-before-sharing, and a shared accountability to be more informed about the things we are promoting.

Perhaps if you or I can’t make (or even explain) the argument without some polemical meme, if we haven’t checked the sources of the information, if we aren’t prepared to defend the accuracy of the premises and the soundness of the argument we are (consciously or unconsciously) putting forth…. perhaps we should stay silent until we have something worthwhile to say?


Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” is a great book along these lines. Check it out.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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