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CAN JOKES BRING DOWN GOVERNMENTS?
MEMES, DESIGN AND POLITICS

by METAHAVEN

These are serious times, or so our governments keep telling us. Strangling economies with their austerity policies, they assure us that they have no choice.

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In a world where “there is no alternative”, how do you dissent? Once upon a time, graphic designers would have made political posters and typeset manifestos. Today, protest has new strategies. Enter the internet meme. With its Darwinian survival skills and its viral potential, the meme is a way of scaling up protest. Hackers and activists have learned to unleash the destructive force of a Rick Astley video. They have let slip the Lolcats of war. Pranks have become a resistance strategy. As the rise of Beppe Grillo in Italy testifies, this may be the hour to fight nonsense with nonsense. Jokes are an open-source weapon of politics, and it is time to tap their power


About the author

Metahaven is an Amsterdam-based design collective specialising in politics and aesthetics. Founded by Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk, Metahaven’s work reflects political and social issues through research-driven design, and design-driven research. In 2010, Metahaven published Uncorporate Identity, a design anthology for our dystopian age, with Lars Müller Publishers. Vinca Kruk teaches editorial design at ArtEZ Academy of Art and Design, Arnhem. Daniel van der Velden teaches design at Yale University, New Haven, and at the Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam.

CAN JOKES BRING DOWN GOVERNMENTS?
MEMES, DESIGN AND POLITICS

We are told this is a time for tough decisions and certainly not a time for jokes. Governments of liberals, centre-right conservatives and social democrats have declared austerity throughout Europe. Their policies are a cocktail of the once-opposed extremes of their respective ideologies: there will be reduced public services (hail neoliberals), and there will, at the same time, be higher taxes (hail social democrats). Injustice is now fair.

Austerity is promoted and imposed by a techno-financial superclass of managers. The austerity elite does not live in the countries where its regimes are imposed, and it most certainly does not live in the social circles affected by it. Where its rule is the harshest this superclass goes by the name of the troika. Comprising the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC), this roaming triumvirate of experts specialises in summary judgments of EU countries.

Austerity is potentially unlimited. It has no boundaries. No austerity elite is willing to say: until here, and no further. The humanitarian crisis of austerity is none of its business.

In unleashing austerity on its constituents, the political superclass has opened up a Pandora’s box of disastrous consequences. It has awakened and emboldened powerful enemies. Not just of austerity, but of democracy itself.