Reports from Cuba: Memes and the Cuban Revolution

Fabiana del Valle writes in Havana Times:

Memes and the Cuban Revolution

Laughter is a mechanism of reflection. It isn’t a matter of Cubans laughing about their misfortunes. They laugh out of understanding, but also because of the absurdity. They laugh and they experience freedom in that fit of laughter. Energy comes together in a joke to express what we would never say in a serious tone.

The ridiculous nature of this island makes humor a part of our armor. It’s the easy way Cubans have found to let everything out and expose the situation today, things done badly, the storm in the face of hardship, despair, and everyday anguish.

Years ago, when there wasn’t any Internet access, comedy shows were where you could best gauge the heat of Cuban reality. You could mock censorship better at cabaret shows, on TV shows, in theaters, than you could with other art forms. Methods have changed with Internet culture, but the result is still the same.

In Cuba, the State’s monopoly of the media, as well as the appeal for national sovereignty, create an environment where people are forced to keep their more radical opinions to themselves.

In this regard, memes, hashtags and posts can be considered a vehicle used by a subordinate society to withstand authoritarian distortions in the media.

Digital trends have known how to capitalize on this to question the State’s actions using satirical language.

YucaBite, an online media platform about technology, activism, culture, and society gave an interview to San Memero, one of the most famous comedians on social media, in which he said:

“Memes in Cuba play a much more important role than just entertainment. I believe it has become one of the most important news sources in the country, today. Many of us find out about events via memes, even before the official and independent press report on them. Due to the swift nature of creation and publication, creators must keep an eye on what is happening on the island and also know how to filter out fake information.”

Opinions are split as always. Some Cubans see memes as an enemy to change. It’s a double-edged sword that grants the “powerful” some kind of immunity.

For example, actor Erdwin Fernandez Collado recently expressed his concern for the Cuban people’s ability to turn all of their misfortunes into jokes.

“…The abuser, the liar, the powerful using force, and when you see the response is a joke, they’ll try doing it a second time, another joke. Give them a free pass! Every day they’ll keep on doing it more and more, stifling us more and more, because the powerful just say: Crush them, push them to the brink, they aren’t going to do more than make a “joke”.

“… Let’s laugh about our problems! When in reality they are joking and laughing at us, about how entertained you are with your “jokes”. Every now and again, we have to be serious, because of them lying to us all the time, all of our lives, isn’t a joke. The saddest thing though: the way the world sees it, how they see terrible things are a joke for most of us and we laugh and have fun: why help? why end this “happiness”?

I personally believe that indirect messages and codes in memes compliment any protest before they can be identified as “subversive”.

They can be seen as everyday activism, they carry hidden transcripts of rage, discourse in disguise, but they also create an independent social space for us to affirm our identity.

The impact of memes and hashtags has been so great, that official media (personal pages of ministers and members of the Politburo, institutional websites and others) have found themselves forced to deny or respond to viral hashtags on social media.

They aren’t the solution to the problem, but one thing is clear: “memes sting and hurt them.”

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