Government surveillance is scary. I think we can all agree on that.
It’s no secret that after 9/11, Americans were more worried about national security than personal liberties, leading to the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001.
As the war on terror dragged on and Americans fell back into the motions, government surveillance was left to go on relatively unchecked – that is, until 2013. In June of that year, The Guardian published a story about collected phone records informed by leaked government documents. The top-secret docs, revealed three days later to have been leaked by the now-infamous Edward Snowden, went on to divulge dozens of other secrets about the way government agencies had been operating.
Almost four years have passed since then, but fears of the U.S. government spying on its own citizens have certainly not subsided. And, as we wade through more court cases dealing with federal search warrants and the house votes to continue to allow spying on Americans abroad, it’s clear that these worries are well-founded.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the constant stress and turmoil of the Trump era, it’s this: Our survival lies in comedy. Daily Show host Trevor Noah put it well when he said, “a person is less frightening when you are laughing – it doesn’t diminish what they do, but it’s how we cope with these situations.”
On the forefront of this crusade of comedy is the president’s preferred platform, Twitter. As quickly as shocking new developments are revealed, the innovative minds of the social media network create memes to satirize and mock them. In this never-ending news cycle, memes come and go as quickly as cabinet members – the special ones are those that stick around.
For the past month, one meme in particular has stolen my heart. It ranges in medium, using GIFs and photos, statements and dialogue, but one commonality binds its components together: the FBI agent spying on you.
hey fbi agent in my webcam can you send me an edible arrangement i’m having a pretty rough week— ryan (@yeetztweetz) January 26, 2018
Sometimes before I leave the house I wave to my laptop camera just to brighten the day of the FBI agent. Friendliness is contagious you know.— Cole M. Sprouse (@colesprouse) January 26, 2018
My assigned FBI agent who monitors my phone watching me text back in .2 seconds when they took 2 weeks pic.twitter.com/9UFNhygzoY— em 🌿 (@uhhmmily) January 20, 2018
*kisses laptop webcam before bed*— a w a b (@iAwab) January 19, 2018
goodnight mr fbi man
This meme is incredible for many reasons, chief among them is its blatant disregard for concerns about security and privacy. The purveyors of these memes don’t shy away from any taboo realities about government surveillance – rather, they embrace the most extreme and ridiculous possibilities and use them humorously.
In that sense, this meme is emblematic of 2018. One month into the year, we’ve already been through a government shutdown, learned the president paid cover-up money over an affair with a pornstar, seen the word “shithole” printed more times than we can keep up with and dealt with 18 school shootings. Taking all of this at face value and fully trying to comprehend its gravity is truly impossible – if there’s any good to be taken from this situation, it comes in the unity created in our collective reckoning with the constant chaos of this era in American history.
As we trudge into the second year of the Trump presidency and learn more about the messed up world around us, we can only hope for more comedy and memes to get us through. All in all, though, there’s one thing we can all do to make things better: smile and wave at the FBI agent in the webcam.