Could Dank Memes Shape the Future of Singaporean Politics?
Top image: Imgur

From jump shots to “photo[s] by me” to his recent use of Instagram Stories, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has never been one to steer clear of social media antics more popular with Singapore’s younger generations.

Now, it seems, he’s dabbling in dank memes.  

He didn’t sign off on this post with his usual ‘LHL’, so we know he didn’t write it. But as many pronounced PM Lee Singapore’s new “Prime Memenister” after his adaptation of the ‘He Protec but He Also Attac’ meme, it’s clear that memes have now entered the vocabulary of Singaporean politics.

As a PR move, this was a master stroke. After all, things are hardly dandy on the domestic front lmao.  

The country is still just coming to terms with the allegations from the PM’s siblings, and many have found his self-bestowed absolution unsatisfactory. Singapore is also about to have its very first reserved Presidential Election in September, an event which has put its racial climate under the microscope.

As Spongebob might say: tHe PrImE mInIsTeR, aRgUaBlY, cOuLd ReAlLy UsE tHe ImAgE bOoSt.

If memes can be used to inspire outrage, they can also do the opposite if used right: create overwhelming goodwill.
Memes work because they encourage extreme reactions. Either you agree with them and love them, or you disagree with them and detest them. They leave little room for nuance, which can be glorious because sometimes, there’s no need to overthink things.

But in some instances, they can also be distracting and dangerous, drawing more attention to the significance of the meme itself rather than the issue behind it. As evidenced in the top rated comments on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page and the articles generated in response to his meme use, many noticed only the meme, and not the issue at hand (the threat of terrorism).

If the PM’s meme reference was just meant to generate a wave of good feeling amidst political uncertainty, it most certainly did its job. We all got played.

(Credit: Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page)
In an article published by Broadly, it’s explained how Paris Hilton harnessed the power of memes to reinvigorate her career. Even if you don’t give two shits about Paris Hilton, the article is a crash course in how memes can help you win at life.

Even the title of the article itself—“Long May She Reign”—already hints at how untouchable memes can make one seem. And as also demonstrated in this reverential profile from Esquire Singapore about Singapore’s very own meme queen Preetipls, you can do no wrong if you meme. We can only say, “YASSS”.

Memes are essentially just like any other trend. You seem trendy and “one of us” just by jumping on the bandwagon, regardless of who you are or where you came from. The only difference is that they have been specifically tailored for the attention spans shaped by the ubiquity of the internet.

As we’ve been overwhelmed by our social media feeds, either bombarded by content or blinded by our own echo chambers, we’ve had less patience and less intellectual capacity to engage critically with online content. Hence, as proven in Pepe the Frog in last year’s US Presidential Elections, memes can really excel as political tools when they’re used to both inspire narrow-minded thinking and galvanise extreme emotions.

In a paper released in 2013 by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, it’s examined how GE 2006 was the “internet election”, and how GE 2011 was the “social media election”. This then begs the question: will GE 2020 be the “meme election”?

Because basically:

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