What Bigoted Memes Tell Us About Today’s Art Creators

This important article vehemently focuses on the Internet origins of bigoted memes, from Karen, Hitler, Pepe the Frog and other memes by racially insensitive creators.

The 2010s have seen the rise of racially insensitive art on the Internet, with popular creations like Pepe the Frog, Doge and Karen all stemming from bigoted meme creators. As deplorable as these are, they do say something important about today’s art community: The Internet has changed how creators get their work out there and how we understand what art is and who it’s created by. To take things further, this article will discuss the origins of bigoted memes, how the Internet has changed the way we perceive them and why that matters when it comes to making art today.

Why are bigoted memes so popular?

Karens, Bored Ape Yacht Club, Pepe the Frog: Fascism and hate have been around for centuries, but in recent years they’ve found a different mouthpiece. Nowadays, when neo-Nazis want to spread hateful messages via memes and other web forms of expression—their modern propaganda machine—they don’t need newspapers or TV shows to carry their message. Instead, racists now take advantage of social media platforms such as Reddit and 4chan to propagate racist views using meme templates like Pepe The Frog.

How did so many harmful meme makers gain notoriety?

Karens, The Bored Ape Yacht Club, and other popular meme creators come from Internet communities with no accountability. These groups are free to grow bigoted ideologies and publish memes that normalize racism and promote violence towards historically disenfranchised groups. These communities have gained huge followings. 

A response is needed to stop bigotry from spreading, beginning in Internet communities where people have an extreme lack of accountability for their ideas and actions. Some of our biggest social platforms enable hate speech without holding its perpetrators accountable, and as individuals we need to think about what kind of content we consume online and how our behavior contributes to today’s harmful internet culture.

Who are these racist meme makers?

According to a Vice News report , some of today’s most infamous racist memes have been created by anonymous racist Internet users in message boards on 4chan, a popular image board site where anyone can post photos or comments anonymously. In addition to using different screen names and IP addresses, these meme makers take steps to conceal their identities. One user who has never revealed his identity because he is afraid of getting doxxed (having his personal information released online), also uses an encrypted email service to protect his identity. 

Nor are these memes solely confined to Internet forums, in an April 28, 2022, article in the Sacramento Bee, “Racist memes by California cops. Discriminatory arrests. Audit details bias in law enforcement,” by reporter Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, she notes the presence of such memes in law enforcement agencies at local and county police departments, as well as by prison guards.

In late April of 2022, an auditor released to the California Governor and Legislators, “Law Enforcement Departments Have Not Adequately Guarded Against Biased Conduct.” In one such case it cited:

A member of the public filed a complaint about an officer’s social media posts. Although the officer’s posts endorsed potentially harmful stereotypes about Black parents and Syrian refugees, the department’s investigation concluded that it was “unable to find any racially derogatory remarks” and that the allegation of prejudice was “clearly false.”

Nor is the support of racist memes limited to law enforcement, celebrity culture has also supported the trend with their participation in the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a racist NFT club that produces harmful Jewish and African American NFTs.

Are there ways to stop this increase in hatred?

The problem with bigoted memes is that they’re disseminated quickly and easily online, but since individual creators aren’t traceable, it’s hard to identify them. If a meme depicts a hateful joke about interracial dating, for example, does anyone know who created it? Can anyone get in touch with them? And if not, how can society punish their behavior? It seems like an impossible task—but there are ways to fight back against these creators. The first step is identifying where these memes originate from, so we can work on stopping them at their source: Internet forums.

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