Do Memes Imitate Life, or Vice Versa? Signs of the Climate Strike

Last Friday, September 20th, Gidon Kaminer ’22 and I participated in the Philadelphia Climate Strike alongside hundreds of our fellow Swatties and other climate-concerned youth. Naturally, a major facet of the strike’s iconography was composed of signs relating to our collective outrage and disappointment in our government’s lack of climate action. While many of the signs depicted serious images like the Amazon Rainforest burning and the Earth on fire, many also depicted meme-like slogans such as “Nooo don’t kill the Earth it’s so sexy haha…” and “VSCO girls aren’t enough.”* Throughout the duration of the strike, Gidon and I took pictures of all of the signs that particularly struck a chord with us. These are our favorites.

Note: Please forgive our image quality. We took every single one of these photos on Snapchat.

Philadelphia Eagles mascot Gritty saying “Eat the Rich.” Photo by Anatole Shukla

Sign 1. Gritty saying “Eat the Rich.”

This sign depicts Gritty, the iconic zero-to-hero mascot of the Philly Flyers, saying “Eat the Rich.” Soon after Gritty’s unveiling in September 2018, left-wing memers adopted him as a symbol of antifa. Here, the sign’s creator evokes the image of Gritty as a far-left martyr, a symbol especially pertinent to Gritty’s hometown of Philadelphia. Gritty encourages us to eat the rich. He demands us to devour billionaires such as Charles G. and the late David H. Koch, who, through their control of Koch Industries, are responsible for funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars into climate denial and lobbying against green technologies. Between the undeniable truth of the ultra-wealthy destroying our planet and Gritty’s handsome smile, how could we help but listen to him?

Earth saying “Bro, I’m straight up not having a good time.” Photo by Anatole Shukla

Sign 2. “Bro, I’m straight up not having a good time.”

This sign depicts the Earth as a gym-rat-type figure holding up two peace signs and wearing sunglasses and a tank top. The sign references a meme which originated from the web series “Real Bros of Simi Valley”. As with the Gritty sign, the sign evokes meme humor to communicate to the viewer that between sea levels rising, intensifying forest fires and wildfires, and mass extinction…. Bro, the Earth is straight-up not having a good time. This sign is especially powerful because it solicits a visceral reaction of, “Damn, bro. You’re right, bro. I’m sorry, bro.”

“Think About Sloths.” Photo by Gidon Kaminer

Sign 3. “Think About Sloths” (Photo by Gidon)

An older woman holds up a hand-drawn and hand-painted sign that says, “Think about sloths.” With the text alongside the depiction of a sloth hanging from a tree, how could you help but think about the adorable lazy creatures that face the peril of deforestation? We love this sign because climate change is a complex issue, and its sheer imminence can tend to overwhelm us. The message in this sign, however, is one person’s simple, concrete plea against the ongoing destruction of our planet: Think about sloths.

“A good.” Photo by Gidon Kaminer

Sign 4. “A good.” (Photo by Gidon)

The previous three signs all presented messages with various levels of abstraction, but ultimately, all three messages were easily decipherable. This sign, however, was the real think-piece of the climate strike. When we saw the words, “a good,” the sign’s author forced us to fill in the blanks ourselves. “A good solution to climate change is the Green New Deal,” perhaps? Or even “A good billionaire is impossible to find”? The message is simple, yet complex. It hits you in waves. First it makes you laugh, and then it forces you to reevaluate your role in ending the climate crisis.

Advocating against climate change and to preserve the world we live in, while necessary, quickly becomes grueling work. Even as a non-organizer, merely attending the climate strike quickly became physically and mentally exhausting. We stood in the hot late-summer Philadelphia sun for an hour, chanting at the top of our lungs, holding up signs, and marching around blocks of downtown Philly. The signs and their unique humor, however, mentally refreshed us and kept us alert as we went on strike for all of our futures.

*A “VSCO girl” references young, usually white women who post pictures on the photo-editing app VSCO. A major component of VSCO girl culture is often performative environmental consciousness, such as carrying around expensive reusable water bottles and silicone straws while preaching to others about saving the turtles.

Ash Shukla

A. Shukla '22, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, plans to major in linguistics and economics, and is, furthermore, of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed.

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