Dadaism and its resurgence through internet memes

Of course it’s widely known that millennial culture involves rampant Airbnb use and an obsession regarding all things avocado, but did you know that millennials are also paying homage to a celebrated early 20th century art movement? Across all social media platforms, meme creators and meme consumers partake in a constant transaction that not only reflects current media culture, but also includes remnants of past artists.

­A criticism of the times we live in, memes poke fun at popular culture, politics and social issues through the use of mediums such as text, GIFs and images. Memes seem to have no limit and are known to push social boundaries and call out and poke fun at meme consumers. They are an ever-changing element of our social media that consistently reflects the disarray youth feel in current day.

Although humorous, memes ignite political and social discourse among young people. Memes, and our ability to relate to them and share them with friends, provides a peek into the ideologies, values and thoughts of young people today. When future generations study this cultural phenomena, they may use similar adjectives that art historians use when they describe the Dada movement: absurd, nonsensical and comical.

The Dada art movement emerged in Europe in the mid-1910s and flourished in cities like Zurich, Paris and New York. A reaction to World War I, Dadaism challenged accepted depictions of art and instead created absurd — often politically charged — and nonsensical works. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali and Tristan Tzara juxtaposed all famed art before them and decided to reject aesthetically appealing art forms, thus creating “anti-art.”

Dadaists were anti-capitalist, anti-war and were against intellectual conformity. Armed with techniques such as collages, photo-montages and sculptures, the Dadaists created works that critiqued the world issues of their time.

Both movements take pieces of well-known cultural artifacts and remake or deface them in a way that expresses disagreement or humor surrounding the original work and its cultural significance. Internet memes and their absurdist humor represent the disillusionment millennials feel in response to current world events. These movements shock their consumers in a way that makes them laugh and can provoke thought surrounding global topics

Why would millennials reject the norm and seek common ground that’s rooted in nonsense? Maybe we enjoy strange humor, but maybe it’s the result of our “American Dream” upbringing coming to terms with reality. The promise of prosperity, happiness and wealth that was fed to our generation in youth has now been met with political turmoil and social outcry. It is no wonder that our generation would turn to the absurd and nonsensical — such as memes — in response to this global political disarray, much like how Dadaists expressed after World War I.

In the meme depicted above, there is reference of Randy Jackson’s famous saying, but the meaning of dog changes from colloquial to literal. In addition to the pop culture reference, it also incorporates the recent extreme cold weather on the East Coast, a very trying time for people experiencing it. This meme recycles a well-known piece of popular culture but also makes light of and laughs at extremely harsh climate happenings.

Are these movements to be considered art at all or are they to be considered a cultural phenomenon? Putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa? Putting a witty piece of text above a picture of Randy Jackson? The parallel between these two movements is that both never defined themselves as art. Dadaism had no interest in being pleasing to the eye or making it into museums, and rather set out to defy cultural norms.

Absurdist humor and memes don’t seem to be going anywhere and are sure to be a part of our culture for many more years. Whether meme culture will be considered an art movement or not, we don’t know — but it is clear that there are some dada-esque qualities about those hilarious images and videos. Something to think about next time you tag your friends in a hysterical post on Instagram.

COURTESY OF MARCEL DUCHAMP (LEFT), COURTESY OF @TANK.SINATRA (RIGHT)

Alex Alderman

Alex is studying sustainable urban development. She loves going to events around Tacoma and telling people about them. Her goal is to use her degree to make cities more sustainable.

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