MANet’s Gaze: Mind Over Meme

Dank Memes for Chifley Screens

Elizabeth is a Canberra native studying a very rarely seen degree at the ANU – LLB/Arts. Her column seeks to incorporate hard truths (common in the legal world) and dank memes. Not wanting her memes to be dreams, Elizabeth hopes to be a pioneer in the art historical study of memes.

I have now been writing to you all about memes for a while, but have realised that I have been doing so in a socially irresponsible manner. In a world of trigger warnings, SJW sensitivities, and post- (insert your pet philosophy, or -ism here), I don’t know how I could have let myself deny my socially conditioned hyper-sensitivity for so long.

I have implied that it is alright to objectify any and all subjects of memes as the objects of your visual pleasure, all in the pursuit of academic advances in memetics. This was wrong of me. What I failed to forewarn you of was the millennial gaze. Just as the male gaze was used by MANet – isn’t the name just a slap in the face? – to place women as the objects of male desire and gratification, memes abduct popular imagery for the nefarious purpose of gratifying us millennials. While the male gaze relates predominantly to sexual desire, memes placate our cynical, nihilistic, and sarcastic desires.

The inaugurator of the male gaze, feminist scholar Laura Mulvey wrote in 1975 that imagery responds to an inner-drive dubbed ‘scopophilia’: the sexual pleasure gained from looking. I don’t judge if memes get you off, but more generally, most of us gain a great deal of pleasure from being tagged in and looking at memes. Memes, objectified for our enjoyment, do not look back at us.

We are the bearers of the gaze. Yet, the meme pictured – not well known, but bear with me – is self-referential in many ways. It acknowledges the millennial gaze, evoking the male gaze with the trope of a woman being watched by a man. However, when faced with the chance to engage in the traditional activity of male-gazing, he opts for the millennial gaze. He just cannot detach himself from the lust-inducing premise of ‘trolley problem’ memes. The equal wickedness of this pursuit is alluded to by the darkened background, which progresses from light grey, to white, to black.

However, this satiric take on the male gaze may be a way of subverting the millennial gaze. Again, we can turn to Mulvey, who notes that the male gaze turns a woman into ‘the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning.’ Through the self-aware placement of a meme in the man’s thought-bubble, the meme affirms its right as a maker of meaning.

Similar subversion of the male gaze can be seen in the typically kitsch, youthful and witty pop art of Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein was renowned for his use of comic (as in Superman, not humorous) art, characterised by bold colours, thick outlines, and Ben-Day dots. Works such as Drowning Girl (1963) in which a young woman dismisses her impending death saying ‘I don’t care! I’d rather sink than call Brad for help!’ poke fun at the helpless female trope, with his satiric reproduction of it highlighting its inanity. The meme pictured clearly refers to Lichtenstein not only in its subversiveness, but in its similar use of comic book style.

Although memes may be able to challenge our gaze, it is not given (#SJW) that they must do so! Millennial voyeurism must end. However, memery can be done ethically. Here are some tips for your next meme viewing:

  1. Be aware of the millennial gaze, and highlight the potential for meme abuse each time you tag.
  2. Join a meme activism group. It will look great on your CV!
  3. Share memes as much as possible so as not to feel repressed. Remember that even though many of us may accept that eating meat is morally wrong, we still do. The same logic goes for memes.

MANet’s gaze may endure in these times, and some might criticise it. But the millennial gaze is one we can close our eyes on. Bear that advice in mind, but also consider this: MANet’s gaze may persist, and so may the millennial gaze, but all you need to do is shut your eyes.