Memes, Manifestations and Magical Thinking
Hannah Barton

‘Meme magic’ describes a power supposedly invoked from the proliferation of certain internet memes, which if tapped, causes URL (Uniform Resource locator) ideas to manifest IRL (In Real Life). The term – redolent of the New Age practice of Chaos Magic – first appeared in March 2015, after the co-pilot of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed his plane into a mountain. It became further formalized in 2016, evidenced by the emergence of the so-called ‘Cult of Kek’ – a quasi-ironic internet religion, crowdsourced by way of World of Warcraft, Italo Disco and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Cultists – who considered Pepe the Frog a potent sigil – were largely pro-Donald Trump and they sought to invoke Pepe’s power via propagation: they believed Trump could be memed into power. Communication technologies are imbricated in the production of counter-histories, conspiracy theories and divergent narratives. As such, meme magic is a practice with clear historic and cultural antecedents. Yet, when further considered in the digital context, meme magic has a distinct relation to the contemporary technological milieu. This presentation seeks to provide thematic exegesis in the dual contexts of anti-establishmentarianism and confirmation bias, while identifying meme magic as a digitally afforded disruptive practice.

Hannah Barton is a doctoral researcher within the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her academic interests include media theory, new literacies, and cultural studies, and she is producing a thesis that describes the cultural history of internet memes. Barton also currently holds a position at Tate Britain, having overseen a project that digitized and provided online access to Tate Archive collections. She teaches at Birkbeck, and writes occasionally on her research interests and related topics.