Earlier this election cycle, Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash became the one of the first left-leaning meme spaces to attract media coverage. The Facebook group’s membership exploded, riding the popularity of everyone’s favorite septuagenarian socialist. The group is noteworthy enough to have its own Wikipedia page, which estimates the group has about 442,000 members. Even splinter groups like “I Got Banned From Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash” house thriving communities of thousands of members.
Perhaps most notably, the page’s visibility has increased the popularity of other groups that propogate progressive, anti-capitalist, irreverent leftist humor.
This election cycle, the seedy quasi-fascist underbelly of the internet has bubbled to the surface in the form of the “alt-right.” This web subculture, full of Donald Trump acolytes, has began to generate mainstream concern; they were even recently labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These circles communicate through memes but use codes and anonymity to coordinate more aggressive levels of hate speech, trolling, and online abuse, like the brigading of Leslie Jones that led to conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos’s Twitter ban.
The alt-right, however, don’t make up the whole picture of political discourse on the internet. “Alt-left” meme groups and pages provide a respite from Red Pill-swallowing, fedora-tipping corners of the internet. Facebook pages like “Anarchists for Bernie Sanders” or “Bro we are communist. Problem?” and even seemingly apolitical Weird Facebook pages like “Lettuce Dog” have spread memes criticizing capitalism, patriarchy, and the prison-industrial complex. These leftist Facebook pages joke about capitalism in a tone partly derived from the the Onion, laughing at the economic emptiness of American life and liberal hypocrisy.
Wings of the “alt-left” meme world stretch into communism or even Stalinism. Some of these pages might only ironically praise dictators through memes, but for millennials of a certain ideology, sharing taboo anarchist memes might scratch an itch to tell irreverent, politically incorrect jokes while exaggerating their beliefs. #FeelTheSmashySmashy became a clarion call for those to the left of Bernie Bros, who had had their doubts about electoral politics since the beginning:
These memes are borne out of a frustration with the limited political options available in 2016. Trump terrifies, Clinton underwhelms, and Jill Stein doesn’t have a chance. Through a classic Homer “slink away” meme, the “Anarchists for Bernie Sanders” page demonstrated how some of his supporters have been radicalized by his loss: