There has recently been a craze for people posting pictures of a Syrian refugee next to a snap of the same guy dressed in Isis uniform two years back, showing that they are on their way to destroy us. It was nonsense, inevitably.
But then they always are. The same goes for the photos of overcrowded migrant boats doing the rounds, which are actually of an Albanian ship from 1991 (an interesting story in itself, told here).
As a rule never trust a meme, especially one that makes some profound point, because it’s almost certainly untrue. Among the most popular is an image of a matador sitting down next to a bull with a little story about how the animal spared his life and he realised the futility of violence. All made up.
Last year Isabel Hardman discussed a trend where people would post a picture of an empty House of Commons with something to the effect of ‘this is MPs voting on whether to save a children’s hospital’ next to one of a full House with ‘this is MPs debating whether to stuff their fat faces with oysters and champagne’ or similar.
Many memes also like to make rather vacuous historical comparisons, usually involving the Nazis and Iain Duncan Smith, such as this.
— Chris Furlong (@SocialistChris) September 20, 2015
A chilling historical echo, I think you’ll agree.
Perhaps my favourite is the utterly fatuous ‘quote’ by Hitler about controlling the public, next to a picture of David Cameron – with a moustache painted on. Deep.
Day by day, as people conspire with govt, thru fear for jobs, thru believing propaganda, you see how Nazism happened pic.twitter.com/rj4v8PUEGJ
— Marcus Chown (@marcuschown) August 7, 2015
Hitler did say this – in a novel written in the 1990s – but now it’s pretty much his most famous quote.
For it’s not just bogus pictures; the internet has also helped spread fake, or misattributed, quotes. I remember seeing one by The Clash’s Joe Strummer about perseverance, which seemed quite familiar and rather conservative until I realised it actually comes from Margaret Thatcher (I think). I recently discovered that my favourite Churchill quote – ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’ – was first used by an American psychologist in the 1980s, and it had only become popular in the internet age. My ambition is to do a book of fake or misattributed quotes, using that unusually clever meme on the cover, showing Abraham Lincoln and the line ‘never believe anything you read on the internet’.
Almost the only genuine meme-quote doing the rounds is one attributed to Nelson Mandela:
And it’s pretty much the stupidest thing that’s ever been said by anyone – poverty is natural, it’s the most natural thing there is. It is wealth that is man-made. Even when memes are true, they’re usually vacuous.