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Ukraine memes proliferate despite grim realities of war

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Russian tanks have been widely ridiculed in internet memes


Russian tanks have been widely ridiculed in internet memes – Copyright AFP/File Anatolii Stepanov

Joseph BOYLE

A giant Adolf Hitler bends down and pats a docile Vladimir Putin on the cheek, master to pupil, in a picture posted on Ukraine’s official Twitter account on February 24 — the day the invasion began.

The message that follows reads: “This is not a ‘meme’, but our and your reality right now.”

Almost two million people have liked the tweet and many thousands have shared it, making it one of the defining viral takes of the war so far.

Yet the country’s official messaging is only a tiny part of the story of memes in the Ukraine war.

For two weeks after the invasion, Ukraine’s official account pivoted away from humour, allowing the internet to fill the void.

Dozens of dedicated accounts sprang up and social media platforms have been flooded with content — from cats in cardboard tanks on TikTok to endless jokes about World War III and reworked scenes from Star Wars movies.

But beyond a few seconds of mirth, do memes have a wider role?

– ‘Nihilistic japing’ –

“I don’t think memes are going to end the war,” says Charlie Gere, a sociology professor from Lancaster University in the UK.

He describes memes in general as “nihilistic japing” likely to have minimal impact outside their own cultural sphere.

The war has given rise to one meme that has crossed from internet curiosity to real-world product.

The Saint Javelin meme — depicting a Madonna figure in the style of a religious icon clutching a rocket launcher — now features on T-shirts and various other merchandise sold by Canada-based marketer Christian Borys.

He says all his profit goes to the Ukrainian war effort and told the BBC he had raised more than $1 million (910,000 euros).

Memes are more commonly regarded as an effective way of spreading a message and engaging audiences.

Christian Dumais, a writer and comedian whose Twitter alter ego “Drunk Hulk” has been behind plenty of viral content over the years, says Ukraine has been incredibly clear in its use of memes.

“A meme’s ability to re-contextualise what we’re seeing in the world in order to subvert, inspire, provoke, and educate is redefining how we can reach people,” he says.

– ‘Express our outrage’ –

Vincent Miller of Kent university in the UK, author of “Understanding Digital Culture”, sees memes as a kind of conversation that can enable political debate to flourish.

“Given their anonymous nature and origins, memes allow people to avoid a lot of the friction and social divisiveness often involved with making political statements online,” he told AFP.

Whether impactful or not, memes will continue to proliferate around the war.

Ukraine’s official Twitter, after a two-week hiatus, returned to memes on the weekend, posting an image ridiculing Russian tanks and another highlighting the collapsing Russian economy.

Other Twitter users continued to post images hailing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“At the moment in my feed he is being idolised,” says Gere, “turned into this figure of nobility and courage and real manliness as opposed to ersatz manliness”.

One of the most popular memes has been casting Zelensky as a Marvel superhero.

His Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has not fared so well, variously depicted cowering behind his massive marble table, begging China for help or just looking ridiculous in a variety of ways.

“I know we’re not talking about revolutionary tactics here,” says Dumais, “but memes in this context are significantly better than adding the Ukrainian flag to your social media profile”.

He points out that creating memes requires at least some engagement with the subject.

“They allow us to express our outrage and help remove the feeling of helplessness,” he says.



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YouTube Shares the Top Creators, Clips and Ads of 2022

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YouTube Shares the Top Creators, Clips and Ads of 2022

YouTube’s has published its listing of the top trending videos and creators of 2022, which provides an interesting overview of the year that was in online entertainment.

Starting with the most viewed clips, the top video was posted by gaming legend Technoblade, in which his father shares Technoblade’s farewell message that he composed before passing away due to cancer.

Technoblade’s final upload has been viewed over 87 million times, which is a testament to the influence the creator had within the broader gaming community.

The second most viewed clip was Will Smith’s infamous confrontation with Chris Rock at the Oscars, followed by another gaming streamer, Dream, and his face reveal clip.

The influence of gaming on online culture is once again on display in YouTube’s top performers, with several of the top channels and clips having links to gaming trends.

Prank videos are also prominent, which is a potentially more concerning trend, with some pushing the boundaries and leading to harm, while the Super Bowl halftime show also makes the top 10 list.

In terms of creators, it comes as little surprise to see MrBeast topping the list:

US Top Creators

  1. MrBeast (114M subs)
  2. NichLmao (18.7 subs)
  3. Airrack (10.7M subs)
  4. Ryan Trahan (11.1M subs)
  5. Isaiah Photo (8M subs)
  6. Brent Rivera (22.3M subs)
  7. Dan Rhodes (18.8M subs)
  8. Luke Davidson (9.31M subs)
  9. CoryxKenshin (15M subs)
  10. Ian Boggs (8.07M subs)

Jimmy Donaldson has become YouTube’s biggest success story, overtaking PewDiePie to become the most subscribed creator, and parlaying his YouTube success into various other business streams, including BeastBurger restaurants, Feastables chocolate bars and more. Donaldson has even outlined his longer-term plan to run for President. Which is probably not a genuine target, but then again…

YouTube has also provided a listing of Breakout Creators for the year, which includes various Shorts-focused stars.

Breakout Creators

  • NichLmao (18.7 subs)
  • Airrack (10.7M subs)
  • Jooj Natu ENG (6.03M subs)
  • Shangerdanger (4.03M subs)
  • David The Baker (2.47M subs)
  • Kat (5.2M subs)
  • Dayta (4.39M subs)
  • Devin Caherly Shorts (3.61M subs)
  • MDMotivator (4.17M subs)
  • Charles Brockman III (TheOnly CB3) (2.41M subs)
     

As noted, it’s an interesting overview of the year that was, though from a creative perspective, it’s hard to take many hints from what these top stars are doing and apply it to your own approach.

MrBeast generates most of his viral traction by undertaking ridiculously expensive stunts, while gaming creators are obviously gaming-focused, which is not overly helpful in determining the next big trends.

The majority of the top creators focus on big challenges, like surviving on 1c per day, or living in the Metaverse for 24 hours.

I guess, if you were looking to tap into such, that would be the key lesson, big-time challenges and grandiose projects that generate viral traction through people sharing the clips with their friends.

YouTube’s also shared the top-performing ads of the year:

Global Top Ads

  1. Amazon (US)
  2. Telecom Egypt (Egypt)
  3. Clash of Clans (US)
  4. Apple (US)
  5. Hyundai Worldwide (US)
  6. Imagine Your Korea (Korea)
  7. HBO Max (US)
  8. Netflix (US) 
  9. Chevrolet Brasil (Brazil)
  10. Squarespace (US)

That provides some more specific perspective for marketers, with examples of how other brands are generating traction with their promotional clips – though most of them are celebrity-led, big-budget productions, so again, there’s not a heap for smaller creators to necessarily take from these trends.

I mean, two of the top ten ads feature K-pop megaband BTS, while others have stars like Scarlett Johannsson and Zendaya.

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that creativity can’t win out.

This ad from Telecom Egypt, second on the above list, uses bright colors and music to sell the brand message.

And really, if you need creative inspiration, you can check out YouTube Shorts and TikTok to see the latest trends that top creators are leaning into with their video approach.

Overall, it’s an interesting perspective on the year, which may help to guide you towards the top stars in the app. But maybe not overly instructive for your own creative approach.

You can check out YouTube’s 2022 year in review here.

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