June 12, 2024

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

How To Read A Meme

I got accused of trolling, but I think the lesson still stands.

I hate memes as a form of argument.  They don’t accomplish much of any value, and they’re mostly there to spam your newsfeed.

I’m also a teacher who occasionally gets accused of high-handed know-it-all-ism.  That’s, um, sadly accurate.

But I had an experience a couple days ago, leading to my newest segment here at Gabbing Geek:  Professor Tom’s Unrequested Lectures.

OK, so here’s what happened.  I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a meme.  That isn’t uncommon.  For some reason, I felt the need to reply to this one.  Let me post it below.

So, what did I ask?  Who told the Marine he couldn’t fly both flags.  I then speculated that this meme was created simply to provoke outrage and get a lot of people to share it.

Wellllllll, that wasn’t overly appreciated.  Someone did have an answer for me, and I’ll get to that below, but the incident in question did happen, and when challenged by the friend who posted it, my response was the meme was inaccurate because the full story wasn’t there, but he said he was just trying to start a conversation, and that I was trolling (um, not intentionally), someone else said I was the only one who was outraged (not really, I felt pretty calm), and then the original poster said no one could get on a soapbox on his feed but him (something something starting a conversation).  Realizing my tone couldn’t be heard, I said I wasn’t trying to troll, I ask these sorts of questions for a living, apologized, and saw my way out.  Then I got reminded none of the people there were my students and…jeez, that was rude.

Well, if I couldn’t get on a soap box there, I sure as hell can here at least until Ryan or Jenny or someone tells me I can’t.  And since they haven’t stopped me from posting plot summary/reviews for twenty-nine seasons of The Simpsons, I’m guessing they won’t object too loudly to this.

Anyhoo, the problem with memes is they often don’t offer enough information.  This here is designed solely to get people to post it to their feeds because they got mad that some Marine was denied the right to hoist both flags.  But what’s missing?  How about telling us where and when this took place?  Memes like this are meant to provoke outrage by suggesting some people are trying to suppress True American Patriotism (TM), and without offering more context, could even be used to create the impression there are many jumped-up people in positions of power who won’t let True American Patriots (TM) show their national pride.  This here could and probably was an isolated incident being used to suggest a commonality.

And wouldn’t you know it, the meme doesn’t lie, but it does leave out some key information.  As I said above, someone answered my questions with a link to Snopes, a fairly reliable debunker of urban legends and such.  A retired Marine Corps Captain was told he couldn’t fly both flags.  Why?  Well, he moved into a retirement community that had rules on how many flags residents could fly, and as such, he was only allowed one.  That’s important information, but there probably isn’t much harm in a veteran flying an extra flag.


The flag incident happened in 2013.  The retired Marine in question sued and won the case in 2013.  That was five years ago.  Then he died in 2016 in that self-same house.  That was two years ago.  The meme only recently appeared.  Someone is trying to stir up some righteousness against…someone years after the incident was resolved.  Or, he or she was just trying to flood that sort of stuff across the newsfeeds of people who don’t really think before they “share”.

As it is, being accused of trolling was a bit surprising, and a personal reminder of what some people say I sound like.  I don’t like sounding that way, and quite frankly I get embarrassed when I’m told I’ve done it again.  But the bottom line is we should probably always question stuff before we post it to our feeds.  The last thing we need is more inaccurate memes.

Of course, if people thought before sharing, or realized any argument that can fit into a meme is probably a terrible one, well, I wouldn’t feel the need to unintentionally come across as an asshole quite so often.

Now, when I intentionally come across that way…