SXSW Interactive Review: “The LOLs of Nations: Understanding Global Memes”

Print Editor-in-Chief

It wasn’t just cats and pop culture discussed at SXSW Interactive’s “The LOLs of Nations: Understanding Global Memes.” A wide range of political and societal topics were also covered. The panelists included Andrés Monroy-Hernández, Ben Valentine, Elena Agapie and Katy Pearce. Each speaker presented on a different country or region. 
“Memes are a way for us to learn around other countries,” Monroy-Hernández said. 
Monroy-Hernández spoke on memes from Mexico and how they can act as political cartoons and prompt collective action as well as help understand geopolical perceptions. 
He referenced a multitude of Mexican memes that poke fun at the current state of politics, such as one that fused Mexico’s most famous drug lord, “El Chapo” Guzman, with the infamous “Bad Luck Brian” meme. Or a series of comical memes that shined light on the truths of the Mexican presidental elections. 
“It’s a really nice way to see the progression of how people see the electoral process,” Monroy-Hernández said. 
The second region discussed was East Africa by Valentine. He stressed the prominence of East Africa on the global web. According to Valentine, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are ranked in the top 10 of countries based on internet usage. 
Next, Agapie discussed Romanian memes and how they critique political characters and use entertainment to depict serious issues. 
When word got out that the Romanian prime minister plagiarized his Ph.D., there were memes making fun of him using the popular Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” meme. 
Lastly, Pearce discussed how memes are used by the government of Azerbaijan to suppress the people. 
“The government controls the narrative through these memes,” she said. “You can reach a much wider audience with funny content than with serious content.”