Cynthia Arroyo | Staff Writer
During this year’s election season, “The Resistance” quickly became the title of President Donald Trump’s organized haters. Interestingly, this title was likely drawn from the rebel military force of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” led by fictional General Organa (a.k.a. Princess Leia). The Resistance became popular around a curious time—the death of “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher and the nearing inauguration of President Trump.
The Resistance is a widespread movement devoted to boycotting President Trump’s companies and products. Americans in The Resistance are writing letters to their senators, marching and speaking out against what they believe to be injustice as a whole.
Some attest that this is one of the biggest defiances against a U.S. President ever; whether or not this is true, it would appear that Americans are following a model of verbal resistance that has been utilized throughout the last century.
From the Suffragette Movement to the Gay Liberation Movement to the Civil Rights Movement, spokespeople have protested for social change with what could be called “radical language.”
The term “linguistic appropriation” is often used to reference a type of cultural stealing or theft of another’s language identity. The reason that this is even possible is because language is highly malleable; it can be formed and defined in whatever ways society determines. When one culture or individual is in a position of privilege or power, they are able to adjust the meanings of words, linguistically appropriating those who have less power.
However, some appropriation can be positive, as once-derogatory terms can be reclaimed for positive meanings. This is the radical language that has weaved itself through history. Words meant for one purpose are being used to serve a new one. And like many historical social justice movements have shown, traditionally demeaning words can be molded for other, new purposes.
One such repurposed word is “womanly.” Before author Alice Walker’s introduced the term “womanism” to describe someone who was “courageous,” “responsible” and “in charge,” the term was regularly used as a synonym for weakness.
Similarly, historical accounts claim that the word “queer” was first used by homophobic individuals in the early 1900s and popularized by 1950. But, in the 1980s and 90s, gay rights activists claimed “queer” for themselves. According to Queer Nation, a LGBTQ+ activist group, their earlier members proudly shouted “We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!” in demonstrations in the 1990s. Although it is still be used in derogatory contexts, it’s now understood as an inclusive term for people of various sexual orientations.
Thanks to the feminist movement, the phrase “run like a girl” has been used by companies like Always to transform the way people talk about strength and weakness. Social rights advocates across the United States can be heard reclaiming these once belittling terms in an effort to unite, rather than to divide.
In 2003, psychologists from the journal “Identity Issues in Groups” said, “Instead of passively accepting the negative connotative meanings of the label, … [one] rejects those damaging meanings and through reappropriation imbued the label with positive connotations.”
Essentially, a once-derogatory term becomes positive because the party that was originally targeted begins using it in empowering ways. As seen with “The Resistance” it isn’t always a negative word that’s adopted by another group; but, in recent events it has been.
In the final presidential campaign debate, President Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.” The phrase was immediately favored by liberal individuals and could be found on left-wing T-shirts, iPhone cases, bracelets, necklaces and dozens of other accessories.
Hillary Clinton is on video at a September 2016 fundraiser in Manhattan saying that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could fit into “a basket of deplorables.” Quickly following this event, the phrase was seen pictured proudly on conservative attire and accessories.
In February of 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted by Republican Senator Steve Daines and again by Senator Mitch McConnell. She was attempting to read a letter by Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, written in 1986 as a warning to Congress against appointing Jeff Sessions as a federal judge.
McConnell is later on record saying, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” The phrase hit social media, and feminists across the country took ownership of the phrase, turning it into a battle cry against the silencing of women everywhere.
Social media has a large influence when it comes to re-purposing language. Much of these instances of radical language during the election season became popular because they were turned into memes.
As the process of reclaiming words adapts to the ever-changing technological age, weaponized memes are becoming the ultimate, modern-day linguistic appropriation. The model of resistance has just added a new stitch.
Defined, a meme is a humorous photo, video or group of text that is passed from one person to another, with variations, on the internet. Weaponized memes are those that are designed to serve a social, environmental, emotional and most times, a political concern.
“Meme-ing” words and phrases makes them even stronger because social media picks them up and transports them far and wide. Within minutes, thousands or even millions of people could see an aesthetically appealing graphic with a political agenda. Better yet, it’s cheap.
From Jan. 17–21, Washington D.C. hosted the “DeploraBall” for Trump-supporting “memers” everywhere. According to the “DeploraBall” website, “Despite overwhelming cultural opposition, a groundswell of Americans rose up together to embrace these labels (especially ‘Deplorables’) to meme our way to the Whitehouse and elect Donald Trump.”
The election expanded to places like Twitter and Reddit as supporters of the recently-elected President Trump created an army across the country to direct negativity toward opposing Senator Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s supporters took full advantage of their memes as well. There were/are innumerable negative Trump memes; further, generic memes like Pepe the Frog and Arthur have been used on both sides of the political spectrum to advance agendas.
According to “This American Life” podcast transcript of DeploraBall attendee Jay Boone, “We memed [Trump] into power…This is true because we directed the culture.”
To direct culture is to have control over the messages that are sent out, and the way in which they are received. Language is ever-shifting and evolving; entire movements can be started by the wielding of language and most currently––the wielding of memes. It should inspire all social media users to be thoughtful about the way they post because as ironic as it seems, the meme culture is something to be taken seriously.