The Half Life Of A Toxic Meme

“Mods are asleep post X” is a pedophilia-normalizing meme and it will never be cool or ok

– User A [1]

Little did I know that responding to that toot would lead to a long discussion thread.

But I’ll get to that later in the week. Because in my response I managed to articulate a very real question I’ve been struggling with for a while now:

If a meme/slogan/image/whatever gets appropriated or used by horrible people, does that – or should that – automatically invalidate every other usage?

Remember “Pepe the frog”? Totally against the creator’s wishes (he later “killed” the character over it), a cartoon got co-opted into a hate symbol. The documentary Feel Good Man covers that story, including a scene where

…Furie begs the Anti-Defamation League to remove Pepe from the hate-symbol list. The organization refuses — how could they? Pepe will forever be a hate symbol.


Will we start to say “Make America better” because of associations with Trump? Is the “OK” sign now permanently poisoned? What of the appropriation of Norse religious symbols by white supremacists? Does the number of awful people using the term or symbol matter, or does it count if one jerk has a big enough platform?

Featured Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

[1] I’ve anonymized the other people in this conversation because who they are isn’t the point.

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