You can read this series from the beginning here.
For the last month or so, every morning had been the same. I’d get out of bed, shower, get dressed, put my H-with-the-red-arrow lapel pin on my lapel, and everyone I saw would tell me what a bad week I’d had. I’d go to Starbucks, order my shade-grown fair-trade coffee with soy-milk, and the barista would say, "Oh, you’re having a rough time of it," and give me an extra shot of hazelnut syrup. People in the elevator would cluck their tongues at me and shake their heads. Bartenders would ask me if I’d come in to drown my troubles.
Here I was, in the nation’s capital, working for a private non-profit (funded by the Qatari Embassy) not formally attached to the Hillary Clinton campaign but nonetheless completely supportive of said campaign, close to the corridors of power and the heartbeat of the progressive movement, and I was as miserable as I had ever been in my life. I actually had two packages of raspberry-coconut Zingers and three antacids for lunch one Monday. There were just so many incoming attacks–not just the predictable conservative attacks, but attacks from our supposed friends in the left-wing press. We were doing what we could to defend the former Secretary from claims that she had engaged in influence-peddling while in office, but the fact was that, well, she kind of had done that, and also, well, she had shredded all the evidence related to that. (Or rather, I had shredded it, which I wasn’t going to ever tell anyone about.)
What we needed was a break. What we needed was a distraction. What we needed, desperately, was for some Republican, somewhere, to say or do something stupid so that we could pounce on him and make him suffer through the news cycle. The good news was that there were so many Republicans running, that eventually the law of averages dictated that they had to say something stupid eventually, and the sooner the better, if you asked me. So when Scott Walker tweeted that the Jamestown landing had happened five hundred and five years ago, when it had only been four hundred and nine years ago, you can imagine my reaction.
It didn’t take me long to find a cool-looking woodcut of John Smith, complete with florid whiskers. I copied the image into Microsoft Paint and put together my first meme of the day and sent it on its way through the various social media networks. It got about a hundred retweets in the first half-hour, and I was feeling pretty good about myself until Monique burst into my cubicle.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Going after Scott Walker," I said. "He got the date of the founding of Jamestown wrong. Which is what you’d expect from a college dropout. Which gives me an idea, actually."
"But you’re doing it wrong," she said. "Look. You’re making a dead white male the centerpiece of your meme. Why do that?"
"Well, he’s funny-looking. I mean, look at the beard, and the squiggly-looking mustache."
Monique glared at me. "You can’t put that meme out without a trigger warning. You’re using an image that’s redolent with racism, imperialism, and colonialism. These are sensitive topics for a lot of people. Can’t you find a more culturally sensitive way to make fun of Scott Walker?"
"You’re right," I said. "You’re absolutely right. What was I thinking? I was seduced by the funny whiskers, I guess."
"I never knew that about you, Justin," she said. "I always suspected, of course."
"I’m not that much of an ally," I said. "Fine. New culturally-sensitive meme coming up."
It wasn’t ten minutes after I posted the next meme that Caroline came barreling out of her cubicle and headed over towards mine. "You cannot possibly be serious about these memes, Justin," she said. "It has to stop. Now."
"I got hit over the head just now for using a dead white male in a meme," I said, "so I switched to a culturally-appropriate Native American figure."
"But you’re using the Disney version!" she shouted. "You’re complicit in their pro-princess anti-feminist propaganda! Not to mention the disrespect to native culture."
"The important thing is to get the point across that Scott Walker said something dumb," I said. "Like it or not, people recognize that image represents Pocahontas."
"You’re telling me that there isn’t a contemporary photo of her you could use instead to show what she really looked like?"
"There wasn’t photography back then," I said. "Most of what we have are contemporary woodcuts made in England that show her in Tudor-era clothing–with a hat and one of those funny-looking collars. Okay? That doesn’t represent Native Americans very well, either."
"Find something else," she said. "Anything else. Please?"
"Fine," I said.
I deployed the next set of memes about an hour later, after a Zantac and half a bag of Entenmann’s mini -chocolate donuts. It didn’t take long for Emma to poke her head into my cubicle.
"Really, Justin? This is what you’re going with?"
"That’s Powhatan. He was one of the first social justice warriors, if you think about it the right way. He’s a symbol of fierce resistance against colonial oppressors like Scott Walker. And if you have a problem with him, I really don’t want to hear about it."
"But why is he carrying an edged weapon?" she asked.
"You mean the tomahawk?" I asked.
"I didn’t want to use such a culturally-loaded term, but yeah. Can you find a less menacing and more, I don’t know, nurturing image?"
"You want me to find a more nurturing image of a Native American warrior chief from four hundred years ago?"
"It’s important that we don’t use terminology or images that could be interpreted as being related to violence."
"Like surveyor’s marks?" I asked.
"You know what I’m talking about, Justin," Emma said.
"Look. I’m sorry. But there literally is no way to use visual imagery that connotes the Jamestown settlement without also invoking colonialism, imperialism, sexism, racism, or the growth of the patriarchy, okay? Like it or not, Scott Walker screwed up on a Jamestown-related issue, and the memes need to reflect that somehow."
"Maybe not with big scary guys with hatchets, though."
I rode down the elevator at the end of the day, more tired and depressed than when I started. Aunt Joan was riding down with me. "I liked that John Smith thing you were doing earlier," she said. "How come you stopped?"