#MUGABEFALLS: MEMES & SOCIAL [MEDIA] DREAMING

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“Had to do another lol #Mugabefalls” – Sane Sato (‏@SaneInTransit)

As the #MugabeFalls meme continues to break the internet and our collective ribs with a slew of hilarious images like the one featured above, it may be worthwhile to consider the (subtle?) socio-political role the meme is playing in ongoing cultural conversations online.

Specifically, the #MugabeFalls meme is an attempt by digital natives and global citizens—who would otherwise have largely very little power to effect change—to speak out against Mugabe’s controversial leadership, thus serving as a contemporary portrayal of satire and social commentary on Africa—which has traditionally taken shape in indigenous literature.

To paraphrase—and recontextualize—the words of designers Dunne and Raby in the first chapter of Speculative Thinking, we need to dream new dreams for the twenty-first century as those of the twentieth century rapidly fade. But what role can design social media play?

Perhaps #MugabeFalls is one answer, and yet another example of how visual media can be used to enact power relations, circulate information and ideas, and make meaning.

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CHINA: THERE AND BACK AGAIN

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“I am interested in investigating what is extraordinary in ordinary life (for instance habit) and in looking at the ordinariness of what might be thought of as extraordinary.” ~ Ben Highmore

Although it’s now approaching two weeks since I left Shanghai for Boston (via UA858 to San Francisco), it’s becoming rather obvious that I’m yet to fully unpack – mentally and otherwise – from my trip to China. While I may have thankfully regained a semblance of some regular sleep-wake schedule, my unexpected tendency to respond courteously to Bostonians with “xie xie” or, better yet, my newfound reluctance to part with a dollar (see dollar-renminbi exchange rate) might be more indicative of a slow reassimilation into American culture.

I also recognize that “unbelievably amazing” is an honest, albeit inadequate and perhaps overly romanticized response to “How was your trip?!” – a somewhat loaded question, which I suspect will be asked of me for several weeks to come as I settle back down stateside. Thus, in order to further reflect on my experience in China, over the next few days (and even possibly weeks) I will be retracing my footsteps around Shanghai (and Beijing, briefly), highlighting noteworthy cross-cultural interactions (as well as some infractions) and dissecting both the ordinary and extraordinary in these experiences.

While this approach is admittedly a departure from the standard writing style often employed here on the blog, my hope is that this series of retrospective writings (à la Jan Chipchase) will provide a deeper look into my experience in China. Keep in mind, this is not intended to serve as a definitive guide to the Chinese experience (Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words has much more value to offer in that regard), but perhaps an attempt to demystify and deconstruct a culture  often perceived as remote and unfamiliar.

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The picture above on Rujin Road (No. 1) was among the first set I took in Shanghai while riding in the cab from Pudong Airport to my hotel. It’s not immediately obvious, but the lady on the far right is wearing a face mask – an unintentional “Welcome to China” message of sorts. Although the air pollution in Shanghai is hardly as severe as Beijing, it’s not uncommon in public areas to see Shanghairen (“people of Shanghai”) wearing face masks – some more practical than others