Neo-Dadaism and Dank Memes

| March 14, 2018 | 0 Comments

The outbreak of World War I tore the world apart. Never before had such destruction been witnessed on a global scale. Capitalist and imperialist interests were out of control. The world, quite simply, no longer made sense. And if the world didn’t make sense, why should art?

Dadaism, or Dada, was an artistic movement in the early 20th century that rejected the logic and order of the capitalist societies in favor of the abstract and nonsensical. Even the name doesn’t make sense: there are conflicting stories as to how the movement’s name was decided on, but the general consensus is that it’s a nonsense word that perfectly reflects the goals of the art movement itself. You can trace its roots back to Cubism and Picasso, as well as pre-war avant-garde. It started in the mid-1910s, around when World War I broke out, and flourished well into the 1920s. Dada was not constrained to visual art, either; its effects can be seen in literature, music, and political discourse as well.

Marcel Duchamp [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My personal favorite Dadaist work of art is from Marcel Duchamp, one of the most famous artists of the movement. Entitled “Fountain”, it is a porcelain urinal, rotated 90 degrees, and signed with the rather cryptic “R. Mutt 1917”. The work was rejected from art shows and magazines, and the original work is lost; only replicas from the 1950s survive today. Why, then, is it considered such an important work of 20th century art? The philosopher Steven Hicks explained its meaning quite well: “Art is something you piss on.”

We are once again entering a time of great uncertainty in the world. America seems to be going off the rails under the command of its new conductor; conflicts in the Middle East are driving people from their homes; the global climate is rising in temperature every day while we watch, helplessly, as our government ignores it. The world doesn’t make sense. The establishment doesn’t make sense. So why should we follow their rules?

The answer to a new generation’s loss of direction and order? Memes.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the ever-popular Internet sensation may well be a form of neo-Dadaism, emerging a century later. Memes used to have a purpose: think of Trollface, Socially Awkward Penguin, and Success Baby. Each conveys a reaction to an event. There’s a system in place to understand them.

But how can one interpret something like Here Come Dat Boi (O Shit Whaddup)? There is no interpretation. It’s ridiculous. There’s no joke, no inside knowledge required, just an appreciation of a piece of art that utterly defies all preconceived notions. Perhaps in a hundred years something like Doge will be in a museum, hailed as a visionary work that raises more questions than it answers.

Neo-Dadaist memes aren’t funny in spite of their illogical construction: they are funny because of their illogical construction. And at the same time, they work to subvert everything we thought we knew about art. Memes are the public’s answer to a generation that needed comfort and laughter in the face of the bourgeois constructions that hold us prisoner. It’s like an inside joke between millions of disillusioned millennials. The world doesn’t make any sense, so we might as well make some jokes about it.

featured photo credit: By Euterpia (This file was derived from:  Shiba inu taiki.jpg) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Reflections

Charlie Scanlan

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Charlie is a journalism major in the College of Communication.

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