Meet The Meme Queen Resisting The Male Whiteness Of Meme Culture
Getting a point across is no longer reserved for literary texts, intellectual long-forms or politically-charged rallies. Social movements and cultural critique now come in all forms, including online and off, dank and not.
The art of memecraft is now using the power of URL humour to fight IRL social battles. At the forefront of the femme-powered side of meme culture is Gothshakira, who is using her self-described status as the High Priestess of Dank Memery to spread incisive and intersectional memes that dissect culture's flaws.
With themes crossing real-life issues like sex, astrology, self-doubt, self-care, mysticism, feminism, mental health and general girl stuff, Gothshakira – the persona of a real-life Latinx Montreal inhabitant who goes by Dre – has carved herself a cyber bubble of dank feminist memery all while decolonising the traditionally white and male meme world. Her emotionally aware Instagram account (follower count nearly 30k) has resonated with women and non-binary people on the net so hard, she's the editor for art collective Girl's Club and has been featured on literally every good website.
We caught up with the meme artist to discuss online misogyny, going viral as an introvert and what 'dank' really means.
Konbini: Who really is Gothshakira?
Gothshakira: Gothshakira is an intersectional feminist meme-based online persona comprised of certain key facets of an actual person named Dre.
Meme culture is, generally, a white male playground – how are you challenging that?
I aim to encourage the incorporation of narratives involving the lived experiences of women/non-binary folk/queer people/people of colour into memes in general, and those having to do with my own experiences as a Latinx in particular.
I think that sharing experiences genuinely and honestly through memes has the power to foster the development of online spaces and communities that can help many people feel less alone – at least, it's done that for me!
In the modern world – aka super shit 2016 – do you think the viral nature of memes actually has the power to change things in society and politics?
I think that memes are a form of discourse, a medium, however informal, of communicating ideas that can have profound sociopolitical effects, if anything because they're so easily accessible and digestible.
"The broader question posed by feminist memes is, this is the future, what side of history you want to stand on?"
Memes represent the manifestation of unfiltered thoughts, which I think constitute powerful political statements in a social context where we're encouraged to hold things back for fear of judgement, depleting social capital, alienating others, losing employment and where the voices of marginalised groups are not a priority.
Your memes are considered feminist, do you think they hold the power to curb misogyny in any way?
It's hard to say whether or not feminist memes could profoundly impact or change centuries' worth of historicised oppression at an institutional level. But I think that, at the very least, they contribute something positive.
The fact that feminist ideas and thought have worked themselves into low internet culture is telling and I think the broader question posed by feminist memes is, this is the future, what side of history you want to stand on?
How does your own background and experiences interact with your memes?
As a writer, I don't feel at liberty to talk about anyone's experiences other than my own, so my individual identity is really closely woven into anything I write, including memes. I talk about being a millennial, about being Latinx, about being an immigrant, about being Canadian, about straddling the line between socioeconomic classes, about being a feminist, about identifying as a woman who predominantly dates men but also frequently finds her own sexuality and gender identity blurred.
My Instagram account (which has always been my personal account) started as a project of catharsis. I thought it would be funny and ironic to myself and my IRL friends to talk about these highly specific experiences that I was sure I had only experienced. Turns out I shouldn't have been so presumptuous! @Gothshakira has turned into a community, and I couldn't be more stoked on that.
Sometimes I think the internet is one big paradox – it’s a land of freedom but actually women and women of colour are still shunned more than men… thoughts?
I think the internet all at once mirrors the dynamics between people and completely transforms them. As one of my former history professors once said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme."
I think the same when it comes to URL vs. IRL. Patterns of association aren't repeated verbatim online, but there are similarities. In that sense, women are still restricted online, especially women of colour. We upload a sexy photo then delete it, torn between expressing ourselves and worrying about what others might think. We have to block strangers sending creepy or misogynistic messages. We're wary of posting too much information regarding where we work or live, because we worry about stalkers, about being followed on our way home, about being raped.
"Being a woman online is much, much harder than being a man on the internet"
This is exacerbated exponentially for women of colour, who don't just have to worry about the threat of misogynistic violence in IRL but also racist threats, the disapproval of family or a cultural community characterised by traditional expectations of masculinity/femininity, etc. Freedom is rarely given, it's taken – but within the context of patriarchy, women and especially woman of colour still have to absorb the risk of being open on such public platforms.
At least for now, being a woman online is much, much harder than being a man on the internet. But that's what I, and a lot of other feminist internet artists are working to do – make it a little bit easier for those like us who will come after us.
How come J Lo and Selena Gomez crop up a lot in your memes?
In the beginning, I started using J Lo and Selena Gomez because I saw a trend of using black celebrities as reaction images for memes and didn't feel right doing that, so I chose highly recognisable Latina celebrities that also happen to be very expressive, and for which there is a great wealth of photos on Google images to choose from. Lol!
I also thought that images of very mainstream pop stars coupled with more "countercultural" ideas would say something. and now it's become sort of my trademark, which is why I continue to use them.
"When a meme is dank, you know. That is all"
What's your definition of ‘dank’?
'Dank' is subjective. What is dank for me may be not so for others. The paradigms surrounding "dank" as a concept are ever in flux, which is why I cannot provide you with any sort of definition for 'dank'. When a meme is dank, you know. That is all.
When did you start getting swathes of followers?
Maybe a few weeks after I started posting memes. At the time I was posting several original memes a day, and I took for granted how much that would quicken the momentum. At one point maybe a couple months in I was gaining 200-300 followers a day, which is the amount of followers I had gained in like the last two years combined, ha.
"When you've been a nerd your entire life... involuntary internet fame can be alienating"
It became a lot to keep up with (in terms of both making original content for free on top of my jobs and also the emotional stress of going from a regular girl on the internet to GothShakira™, lol). So now I post less on purpose. For now, my internet notoriety is a beast of manageable size. I'm content with that.
How does it feel to be viral?
It is horrific and also wonderful. And weird, especially for an introvert. Man, I'm such a weirdo. When you've been a nerd your entire life and have become very comfortable with that identity and with existing in the strange little pockets of the world that you know you're welcome in, involuntary internet fame can be alienating.
It's stressful af. It's kind of comical to me to see people who try so hard to be internet famous or famous in general just for the sake of being famous. It's inconceivable to me, like why would you seek this out? I mean, I get why, but why, you know? I can't lie, my career as a writer and artist has gotten a major boost from this.
My ego is massively stroked on a daily basis, which is tight. And I get validation from thousands of other girls every time I post something that I'm not alone, which is incredible. But as much as a lot more people "like" me now, a lot more people don't like me, too, and I don't know who's out there. People have spread rumours, people have threatened me. And I could live without it all. I remind myself of that every day. That's how I remain free.
By Lydia Morrish, published on 15/09/2016