FeltZine Issue 57 is welcomed by Atlanta-based meme artist, males_are_cancelled, an eccentric creative that utilizes memes to explore the depths of intersectionality, hegemonic masculinity, sexuality, and more.
How did meme art start with you?
Males_R_Cancelled: “My first meme art project was probably in high school — one of the popular boys in the year above me kind of looked like bad luck brian… so I made bad luck brian memes clowning him and got in trouble for it….”
To answer more seriously, I got really into memes around 2015-2016, when artists like @bunnymemes and @gothshakira were blowing up on Instagram with relatable long-form memes combined with “girly” imagery and pop culture references. I was an avid consumer, and looking back I think I felt so strongly because consuming “niche memes” on Instagram was the first time I was able to process the sexual violence I had experienced in my life. I connected with those memes because they were supportive without being patronizing, and they made me realize that my experiences were far more universal than I’d thought.
I can’t remember the first Instagram-format meme I made, but it was sometime in 2016 — I was coding at a tech startup in London on an all-male team, and also incredibly isolated and depressed, so it probably had something to do with that. Originally I just posted them to my finsta, but I got annoyed by people commenting “are you ok” so I made a separate account and added hashtags to my posts. And that’s how @males_are_cancelled was born!
The medium of meme art is often undervalued in the high art world, but immensely used by everyone and their auntie. How do you circumvent the challenges that this art-form poses to your craft?
“I’ve seen a lot of conversation lately about whether or not memes are art, and I think the answer is that it doesn’t matter. The magic of social media and the digital age is that it removes a lot of the middle men as far as getting exposure as an artist goes. Recognition from established institutions becomes less crucial when artists can connect straight to consumers. Of course any sort of recognition would open doors for anybody, but I think all I can do is focus on developing myself as an artist and building my brand from the audience I’m grateful to already have.”
“For the past year or two, I’ve witnessed many artists and organizers attempt to find the right way to fit memes into the art world, but it’s tricky. Memes are almost always better when they’re easier to understand, but high art tends to have the opposite point of view. More often than not I’ve just seen people try to frame existing meme art and culture in a way that uses the words “experimental” and “abstract.” Personally I think memes are just really short books.”
How can other people empower meme artists and the meme art community at whole?
“I think it’s a given at this point that the “relatable meme” concept is going to continue growing and gaining traction with both art and commercial worlds. Huge corporations are running memes as ads, and plenty of people with fruitful art careers are creating meme-style work, or citing digital memes as a source of inspiration.
What’s more important, in my opinion, is understanding the way pre-existing privilege structures manifest themselves in the digital sphere, especially as social media platforms push for monetization. Modern meme culture comes from women, trans, and non-binary people of color — digital content has always been pioneered by marginalized people who turn to the internet to build communities. However, more often than not, the people who have been able to effectively monetize their pages are white men with pre-existing wealth and resources to invest, whose content consists of watered-down versions of jokes created by people of color, primarily black twitter. Of course, this phenomenon is prevalent in every creative industry, but in the digital world the concept of ownership is so vague that this sort of cultural exploitation and content theft is unbelievably easy to do.
Everybody looks at memes now, and it’s fair to just have a laugh without thinking about it — but I’d definitely encourage anybody who consumes memes to be a little more cognizant of who they are following and whose posts they are sharing.”
What is your process in creating your work?
If there was one overarching theme to my process it would be ‘instability.’ Every idea I get is super out of the blue, and I can never predict when it’s going to happen. Growing up I was super into writing poetry, and I’d always be trying to think of succinct phrases that sound really deep and sad, so my brain just took up verbal brainstorming as a background habit to keep itself awake. As I started getting more into making memes, I subconsciously started thinking of “memeable” phrases instead, and also utilizing visual design to tweak the tone.
As far as the editing process goes, I use photoshop, and I start out with the text. I find most stockphotos on Google Images or 4chan, and I spend a lot of time just messing around with it, trying out different effects and arrangements until I like it. It’s super trial-and-error, and I’m thinking about doing a meme-making livestream or tutorial video in the future.
How did the internet influence your development?
I feel like I was born on the internet. I wasn’t really allowed to do much as a kid, but my family was really techy so I was always just on the computer. I really idolized my older brother, so when he started showing me dumb memes on the internet (like the word PWN) I became obsessed with them and thought they were really epic, and would scour the web to try to find more — so I think my sense of humor definitely came from old school meme culture.
I was also on tumblr in 2012, and if I’m being honest, that’s probably what has shaped my worldview the most. It was shitty because that entire site just romanticized the hell out of, like, everything, but at the same time it allowed me to discover my interest in art through visual content. Overall, the internet has been crucial for me to meet other creatives, to find inspiration, and to just learn about the world.
Who are your favorite meme artists at the moment?
What do you have in store for the future?
“I am going to transcend my physical form.”