the rise of “moral memes”, far from ridicule and cynicism

As of December, the message was shared more than 200,000 times on Twitter: a drawing, posted by Ukraine’s official account, hijacking a joke already known to internet users. Different types of migraine have been described: those caused by hypertension, those caused by stress, and, according to this meeting, worst of all… those caused by the fact that we live near Russia. A very undiplomatic message.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, montages and parodies have penetrated the Western internet, the vast majority of which are committed to the Ukrainian cause. “Memes”, whose origins are now untraceable, which may have been designed and shared by official institutions as well as, more conventionally, by anonymous internet users, and are fun to compare Ukraine to Frodo from Lord of the Ringsor Russia to the troublesome neighbor from the movie Borat.

“If you don’t necessarily have much to say about it, the meme is useful for joining the global conversation , says Laurence Allard, lecturer in communication sciences at the University of Lille. From Poland, where she went into exile, the US embassy also became involved, with a montage that compared the grandeur of medieval Kiev to the city of Moscow, described as a gloomy forest.

On Reddit, the most visited community site in the world, one meme in particular stands out: on the first day of the conflict, the 18 million users of the section devoted to this form of humor vote and make a montage with Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky the most popular meme of the past twelve months.

Left: “What everyone thinks a Chad [prénom désignant l’archétype du mâle ultra-viril] resembling

“Zelensky is a good customer for this kind of hijacking. We can easily make him a hero because he has already embodied heroes »

“Zelensky has an interesting background. Before he becomes president, he is already a fictional characteranalyzes Laurence Allard, referring to the Ukrainian president’s past as an actor. He’s a good customer for this kind of hijacking. We can easily make him a hero because he has already embodied heroes. †

In fact, the videos of his earlier sketches are where we see him on the phone with an Angela Merkel impersonatorshooting with an Uzi submachine gun, participating in the TV show “Dancing with the Stars” or the voice of Paddington Bear are an endless supply of memes.

Perfectly mastered codes

While it’s not uncommon for the web to even take hold of a tragic crisis, it’s rarer on this network that attempts at institutional humor are perceived as clumsy, even inappropriate, than the content provided by ordinary Internet users and those openly produced by official country accounts are equally successful. Sign that the cause goes beyond this simple split – also a sign that this political communication perfectly masters the sometimes rather obscure humor codes on the internet.

While the Kremlin’s vocabulary is mockedthe statements of Volodymyr Zelensky, which, however, do not lend themselves to a smile (his “I need ammunition, not evacuation” addressed to the White House), are recuperated, repeated, printed on T-shirts, like the “punchlines” of an 80s action movie hero. The “pop culture” prism is so present that internet users give in to kitsch by representing Zelensky as a Ukrainian cousin of Captain America.

– “The Federal Communications Supervisory Service requests a new name”star wars” in “The special effect of the stars”. †

From meme to slogan, there is only one step. We think of the sentence “Russian ship, fuck you”First presented by an adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior as the last words of thirteen soldiers who died under the shelling of a Russian boat: it has since become a tag on the streets of Kiev, the loading screen of a Ukrainian operator and, more broadly, a sign of support for the Ukrainian cause around the world. And a pity when we learn in the meantime that the thirteen men may still be alive.

The Rise of the Sublime Meme

All this is no longer really laughable. And by the way, for Laurence Allard, the memes shared since the beginning of the Russian invasion, while parody in nature, are never mocking. Unlike Vladimir Putin, who more or less ironically embodied a somewhat grotesque virilism for Internet users, ‘Zelensky is the hero who calls for empathy’Laurence Allard analyzes:

“He is represented with his family, with tears in his eyes… It’s not the same kind of heroic action. †

Also during the conflict in Ukraine we see a revival of what Laurence Allard calls ‘chromatic’ memes: poetic, satirical drawings, using the simple pattern and colors of the Ukrainian flag. Near Black Lives Matter’s black square or the “Je suis Charlie” logo, which replaces your Facebook profile picture, they endlessly distract the yellow and blue of the flag, without trying to amuse.

Infinite variations that are no longer just shared because of time: they are also monetized, in the form of NFT, a blockchain authenticity certification technology that allows digital objects to be traded – and therefore, why? no, memes. Laurence Allard notes, therefore, that since the beginning of the invasion, the platforms for buying and selling NFT have been full of these purely graphic memes, sometimes sold for the benefit of Ukrainian institutions that additionally promote them.

“It’s not often that the meme doesn’t fall into self-caricature,” welcomes Laurence Allard, who finds it reassuring that the second-degree culture inherent in memes is being erased here in favor of a certain sobriety, to “moral memes” or from “sublime memes”.