Can the Left Learn to Meme?
Lessons for the cultural left, from cat memes to gaming, to Stranger Things, and more.
Taking in an array of cultural references from the contemporary art world, to cat memes, Stranger Things, the Kardashian-Jenners, Mad Men, Run the Jewels, and video gaming, Can the Left Learn to Meme? argues that there is positivity in millennial-era cultural production.
Utilising Adorno’s unswerving yet understated hope in spite of the odds, Mike Watson embraces the abstraction of the new media landscape as millennials refuse to surrender to cynicism, by out-weirding even the world at large. They pose a radical alternative to the right wing approach of Steve Bannon and the conservative psychology of Jordan Peterson.
Here, the cultural elitism of the art world is contrasted with the anything-goes approach of millennial culture. The left avant-garde dream of an art-for-all is with us, though you won't find it in museums. It is time the left learned to meme, challenging conventions along the way.
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Devoid of this medium as a means of useful protest, Watson considers the power of new media (such as memes, online gaming and social media) as offering boundless opportunity for expression, advocating the utilization and abstraction of it through persistence production in a rally against apathy and cynicism. ... However, while memes, online gaming, and social media are all entrenched within the very data economy that seeks to manipulate us, Watson poetically considers that they offer a unique means for perpetual creation and dissemination, one capable of conjuring the odd moment of critical incisiveness, causing a shudder. ~ AI Binns, Merion West, https://merionwest.com/2020/01/10/review-can-the-left-learn-to-meme-adorno-video-gaming-and-stranger-things/
5 out of 5 stars: This book explores whether contemporary cultural phenomena from games to memes can somehow inspire alternative social and political ideas. The key thinker throughout the book is the 20th century critical theorist, Theodor Adorno, whose understanding of the role of art in helping us to view the world differently is smartly re-purposed for today's digital culture. The author shows how the world of high art is now so heavily commodified that it lacks any real political value. So it's left to the media savvy youth to perhaps rescue online culture from the alt-right and use it for more radically creative ends. The book is short and accessible, with plenty of examples to illustrate the arguments. It's realistic rather than blindly optimistic, but with a sense of hope. For anyone interested in Adorno, it's useful in terms of showing his continued relevance. But anyone with an interest in the political potential of art and culture should find plenty to think about here. ~ Jon Bailes, Amazon
5 out of 5 stars: Can the Left Learn to Meme? This is a great point of view. In this new book, Mike Watson explores a new landscape. Through games, memes and philosophy, Watson analyses ours social and political identity, exploring different aspects of our behavior. Mike Watson cleverly embraces art, politics and popular culture into digital era. I really high recommend to read it. ~ Peppelana, Amazon
5 out of 5 stars: I learned a lot from this book. Mike Watson has a formidable range of references at his fingertips--from canonical theorists to high art to pop culture--and he blends it all into a provocative thesis. He offers a compelling corrective to those of us who have become cynical about online politics and social media, etc. It may feel cathartic but surely throwing up one's hands and saying "to hell with all that" isn't ultimately a defensible attitude--and besides it cedes the territory to the alt right (or whatever it is). This short book bristles with original ideas and maps a coherent path toward constructive political engagement online, something that (and I agree with the author on this) the left is pretty bad at. The left is kind of hitting a brick wall right now (both in the UK and the US) and it's high time to look at ideas like this. I especially appreciate how Watson is able to provide so many entry points with which to connect with his work. You don't have to be a philosopher or even an academic to relate to his arguments or understand his references. Happy I bought it. ~ David J Blacker, Amazon
'Intellectuals in the vein of Zizek and Watson have taken it upon themselves to litter their writings with accessible and informative pop culture analysis, bringing dense topics to life in a way Adorno et al themselves struggled with.' 'Watson’s book is impressively eclectic, bringing together a lot of different influences and topics that one wouldn’t expect to see together. These range from Adorno to World of Warcraft, Jordan Peterson to Tom Huett.' ~ Matthew McManus, New Politics, https://newpol.org/review-can-the-left-learn-to-meme-adorno-videogaming-and-stranger-things/
Mad Men as a means to understand the political impasses of today. League of Legends as a route to collective consciousness. Cat memes as a new form of freedom. This is a book full of compelling, insightful and playful analyses of popular culture seen through the sharp eyes of Adorno. A much needed intervention revealing the vital perspectives an often misunderstood thinker can offer to new media, concepts of the Internet, meme, video games and more. Watson critiques the art world, corporate capitalism, rising right-wing discourse and structural neoliberalism in this important contribution to the progressive Left agenda. At the same time, he makes Adorno fun again! ~ Alfie Bown
From Steve Bannon and Jordan Peterson to YouTube and Stranger Things, Watson's book is relentlessly contemporary. He keeps alive Adorno's tradition of critical commentary in popular culture, but with a gentler and more affable tone. ~ Graham Harman