Memeify the revolution, but make it sexy : sexualized digital activism in 2020
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2020 was a record year for grassroots political activity in the United States, and social media platforms in particular served as indispensable tools for spreading movement communication. Because posts on sites like Instagram and Twitter often rely on a logic of memeification to achieve virality, the popularization of activism online meant that resistance itself was memeified as well. Specifically, 2020 movement memes were intensely sexual in character and abundant on a scale never before seen. This thesis is dedicated to the critical investigation of the purpose, foundations, methods, and utility of “sexualized digital activism” (SDA) for progressive politics. After exploring the historical, theoretical, technological, and sociocultural influences to its development, I argue that SDA is a direct outcome of postfeminism, social media’s attention economy, and woke-washing. Then, by analyzing a variety of artifacts gathered from social media throughout 2020, I suggest that SDA can be categorized in at least four distinct ways and provide an overarching typology. Finally, considerations are given to the potential advantages that SDA can offer direct action, but ultimately, I draw on the work of Audre Lorde to argue that this rhetoric is an inherently risky strategy for movement building because it participates in the same oppressive systems that progressive politics typically oppose. In doing so, this project contributes to ongoing inquiries regarding the use of social media for political engagements, postfeminism, and the effects of networked media on cultural trends.