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Memes IRL: How the Performance Art of Labeouf, Rönkkö & Turner Unleashed an Internet Subculture Into the Real World


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Mid Atlantic Popular Culture Association
November 11, 2017
Internet Culture

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Memes IRL: How the Performance Art of Labeouf, Rönkkö & Turner Unleashed an Internet Subculture Into the Real World

  1. 1. Memes IRL: How the Performance Art of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner Unleashed an Internet Subculture into the Real World Katie Elson Anderson Rutgers University-Camden MAPACA, November 11, 2017
  2. 2. Introduction In this presentation I will be talking about the participatory art project, HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, specifically the participation of representatives from internet subcultures traditionally labeled as “trolls”, but more recently, and more aptly described in some cases as alt- right, far-right or neo-nazi. A brief description of the collective and their works, which operate in the context of metamodernism will be followed by a focus on the project and the role that internet trolls and memes played through disruptive participation. A timeline of the project’s evolution will show detractors’ efforts to claim “victory” and label the project a failure, however in reality, their participation supports the metamodern sensibility of the project sought by the artists. I will briefly introduce the subcultures and their tactics and weapons in this specific project. In some cases these are disturbing, upsetting, certainly NSFW and full of vitriol. I will argue that the project’s significance continues to grow as it evolves. The events surrounding HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US have brought to light not only the internet subcultures that have increasingly been documented and discussed since late 2016 by scholars and media in relation to their role in the support and election of Donald Trump and subsequent pivotal events in 2017, but also brings up questions regarding public space, museum neutrality, free speech, hate speech and online harassment. This presentation is the beginning of deeper explorations and continued research on the artists and the project and slides have been added since the original presentation to provide more information and context.
  3. 3. LABEOUF, RÖNKKÖ & TURNER Shia LaBeouf (b. 1986, Los Angeles, USA) Nastja Säde Rönkkö (b. 1985, Helsinki, Finland) Luke Turner (b. 1982, Manchester, UK) facebook: instagram: twitter: @thecampaignbook @Luke_Turner ● Collaborating since 2014 ● Create participatory projects and performances. ● Projects explore: empathy, emotion, social interaction, humanity. ● Performances span digital and physical networks. ● Focus on Connection and Community ● Metamodernism
  4. 4. Further reading on LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner De Wachter, E.M. (2017). Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration. London: Phaidon. Hunter, B. (2016). Reviews : LaBeouf, Rönkkö, and Turner. Canadian Art, 33(2), 128. Muñoz-Alonso, L. (2016). artnet News’s Exclusive Interview With LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner: Is it time to reconsider Shia LaBeouf's art practice?, artnet news. Retrieved from Newhive, (2015). #ALLMYMOVIES: A conversation with LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. NewHive. Retrieved from Swift, T. (2014). An interview with Luke Turner & Nastja Säde Rönkkö, AQNB, Interviews. Retrieved from
  5. 5. Metamodernism Vermeulen, T., & Van Den Akker, R. (2010). Notes on metamodernism. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2(1), 5677. Notes on Metamodernism ( --------------------------- (Luke Turner) “thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons” -Metamodernist Manifesto Post 2001 sensibility, response to cynicism Structure of feeling An oscillation between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism NOT a philosophy NOT a manifesto (despite existence of a manifesto) Sincerity/Irony Deconstruction/Construction Apathy/Affect Optimism/Cynicism
  6. 6. Each unique performance (listed from website) explores space, physical and digital presence, and connection. Online communities created around performances, often through the hashtag. Project was not presented with a hashtag as with previous projects- #HEWILLNOTDIVIDEUS and #HWNDU grew organically with the online communities. Main connection was audience/ participant; unlike many previous works which invite direct connection with the artists themselves.
  7. 7. HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US Against the Normalization of Division Text from:
  8. 8. (Hey look, there I am again…) “It’s incredibly powerful to see my fellow Americans, in all their beautiful diversity, approach the exhibit camera and passionately announce (or sing) to the world that they will not allow this new president to tear our country apart” (Earl, 2017) ( livestream-chant-review-1201772138/)
  9. 9. In Real Life shitposting trolling lulz redpill Pepe LARP Godwin’s Law Poe’s Law /r/The_Donald 4chan /pol 8chan Discord Servers
  10. 10. MEME: Dawkins defines meme as “theories of cultural replication to shared in-jokes, catchphrases and signature texts” (Milner) “Magic” Weaponized Meme: Meme used to as propaganda, for attacking or harassment or to flood the mainstream. Alt-right power broker Jeff Giesea's paper about memetic warfare in 2015, we might have seen it coming."For many of us in the social media world, it seems obvious that more aggressive communication tactics and broader warfare through trolling and memes is a necessary, inexpensive, and easy way to help destroy the appeal and morale of our common enemies," PEPE: A frog cartoon by Matt Furie that was co-opted by the alt-right and listed by the ADL in 2015 as a hate symbol. KEK, KEKISTAN: LOL, Frog god (pepe) 4chan: Internet Forum 8chan: Internet Forum (usually with less restrictions than 4chan- ie; if you get kicked off of 4chan, you move to 8chan These internet forums were the birthplace of anonymous, the alt-right, GamerGate, conspiracy theories such as pizzagate, countless false narratives and harassment campaigns. A 2003 analysis Discord: A social network primarily used by gamers, but recently used by internet trolls and extremist groups, ie; much of the planning for the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville took place on a Discord server (private, generally invite only) Godwin’s Law: if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds. Poe’s Law: On the internet, it is impossible to tell when someone is joking. Unable to distinguish irony from sincerity. LARP: Live-Action Role Playing. Pretending to be something you are not; in this context, neo-Nazi LARPing and claims of “just kidding”, “just playing”, troll, trickster Shitpost: Generally referring to the worthless, stupid, silly, mundane posting in internet forums. Often crude and vulgar. Redpill: Taken from the Matrix movies, means to suddenly realize what reality actually is; misogynistic roots, racist, sexist in nature. Lulz: “laughs”, often used to indicate the “just joking” nature of a post or action Normie: those unfamiliar with the memes and ways of the internet forums and the subculture; those who have not been redpilled. Some very brief definitions
  11. 11. Weaponized Memes
  12. 12. All photos:
  13. 13. “No such thing as an ironic Nazi” Weaponized Irony
  14. 14. Metamodern Manifestation “Troll behavior calls attention to various points of overlap between negative and positive, transgressive and acceptable, even cruel and just behavior” (Phillips, 2015)
  15. 15. “It's an incredible thing to be a part of. Making even one real human connection in the love and positivity that the project has generated is infinitely more powerful than any of the hate that's been thrown at it.” - R.B. participant and supporter #connection
  16. 16. Resources (draft work in progress) Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can't have nice things.:Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Milner, R. (2016). The World Made Meme Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Nagle, A. (2017). Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right. Laurel House, UK: Zero Books