ＢＯＲＩＳＷＡＶＥ グジに — How did Vaporwave end up as a Tory party aesthetic during the 2019 General Election?
A 2019 General Election report by Tristan Hotham
Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music and an Internet meme that emerged in the early 2010s. Vaporwave is musically based on ironic interpretations of chillwave alongside 1980s and 1990s mood music styles such as smooth jazz or elevator music. The style’s visual aesthetic (often stylized as “ＡＥＳＴＨＥＴＩＣＳ”) incorporates early Internet imagery, VHS degradation, late 1990s web design, glitch art, and cyberpunk tropes, as well as anime, Greco-Roman statues and 3D-rendered objects.
So how did we end up with the Conservative Party, sending across Facebook and Instagram this vaporwave inspired advert from the 6th Nov 2019 until now? It has so far cost £8000 (one of the most expensive adverts they have sent) and has reached 600,000 people.
Vaporwave as a meme is nearly a decade old, however, two recent uses appear to be likely sources of inspiration for the Conservative Party.
Andrew Yang and the Yang Gang
One is via Andrew Yang, Democratic Presidential Candidate in favour of Universal Basic Income. His ‘Yang Gang’ of supporters are an online army who despite his relative unknown, have kept Yang in the race both through donations and online support. Although he is nowhere near winning (he is currently polling 2.3%), Yang’s organic online support has brought to the fore the UBI discussion within the USA.
The Yang Gang have shown how having little money but good social media acumen can keep you in a tight race. Originally gaining a lot of 4chan support (with alt-right iconography heavily used in the linked video below), Yang has denounced any support from the alt-right. In an interview with The New York Times, Yang said that he is “getting support from quarters [he] wouldn’t have expected”; regarding support from the alt-right in particular, he said “It’s uncomfortable. They’re antithetical to everything I stand for”. Vaporwave continues to be partially associated with forums like 4chan, although the form is much broader in use than just these nefarious sources.
Despite problematic assertions, the use of vaporwave content arguably put Yang on the map, helping his online profile generate an invite onto the Joe Rogan Experience podcast that accelerated his support. The Conservative Party may be wanting to tap into the same audience and atmosphere with Boris, even though at the edges this audience is associated with nefarious websites like 4chan. The visual and audio style of vaporwave is nevertheless catchy and perfect to draw in younger more internet-savvy users.
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Moggwave
A stranger and slightly older example is via Moggwave, in 2016 many young activists started to coalesce around Jacob Rees-Mogg, pushing for him to be Tory leader. Small Facebook pages, such as Middle Class Memes For Rees-Moggian Teens and Moggmentum sprang up in support of the now Leader of the House of Commons. Alongside this rise in fan pages, we also saw the development of Jacob Rees-Mogg vaporwave videos; three examples are seen below. At the time this made the news, as Ellen Barry and Angus Harrison outline in their respective publications, what was occurring was novel and strange.
Youth activists coined the term “Moggmentum,” touting him as the only Tory, as Conservatives are also known, with the charisma to match the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. A 24-year-old man from South Yorkshire had the phrase tattooed on his chest, sending the newspapers into transports of delight. Memes followed. There were online quizzes (“Name Your Child the Jacob Rees-Mogg Way”) and T-shirts (“This fellow is a Rees-Moggian teen”). Someone recorded electronic dance tracks called Moggwave.
It’s fair to say that normally the world of political memes isn’t worth going anywhere near. Largely it’s full of privileged people pretending those in power are adorable.
Then again, every so often, something happens that ever so slightly escapes the realm of the normal. In this case a discovery that, while technically still in the dreary realms of political lolz, is weird enough to deserve at least a few minutes of your time today. This is Jacob Rees-Moggwave.
Three examples are available below, ranging from re-posts of electronic hits to the use of Jacob Rees-Moggs voice as lyrics.
Moggmentum pushed Jacob to the fore, with him having to state publicly he was not standing for leader. Since the rise of Boris Moggmentum has declined. However, it seems likely that the Conservatives are trying to capture some of that Moggmentum spirit in their new content, or that a Moggmentum activist (who may well have created some of the videos below) is now working in CCHQ…
So why Boriswave?
So why has this vaporwave trend re-emerged in 2019 via Boriswave? Why are the Conservatives using a stylistic meme that has associations to the alt-right?
Firstly vaporwave is still popular but is on the decline, as shown in Google Trends data below. Nevertheless amongst certain groups the style still has purchase. Those who are interested are likely to be heavily online younger men, who are familiar with inside jokes on the internet. It speaks to the Conservatives having creatives on their team who know the internet far more than the team did in 2017. It may suggest a more free-spirited atmosphere in the campaign office since Lynton Crosby was replaced by Isaac Levido.
So who was actually being sent the advert? As is visible in Graph 1, the video is clearly being targeted at young men exclusively. The Conservatives are using the language of heavy online users to reach young men, including potentially those who are purveyors of vaporwave content. The use of the vaporwave style is a draw for their message to ‘get Brexit done’ and elect Boris.
The Conservative’s clearly believe it is worthwhile to try out new types of communications to younger people, even though traditionally this is the demographic that support the Tories least.
Despite the dodgy associations the meme and style of vaporwave has gained over the last decade, this has not put the Conservatives off adopting the style to try and speak to younger people. The fact that they are preferring style over policy is fascinating and speaks to the cultural power of the internet.
It is also likely that the data generated from the advert will be used to generate new meme inspired content during the 2019 campaign. With the Conservatives clearly not afraid of trying to reach young men, potentially seeing a route into younger male demographics now Corbynmania has died down. However, this compartmentalisation of messages by gender and the use of a style associated with 4chan is highly problematic. The targeting of men to the exclusion of women in a style associated with the alt-right, throws up questions as to how targeting can be operationalised and what the Conservatives are trying to achieve. The adoption of this style throws up new questions as to the use of memes by political campaigns, as different memes are associated with different groups. If the Conservatives are trying to activate the alt-right via dog-whistle style advertising this is a major story. However, it is important to note that it may just be that the Conservatives are just trying to reach younger people online, using interesting content inspired by the internet.
Nevertheless, it is vital to note that these heavily online young men are exactly the type that may think this Boomer style adoption of internet culture is very very lame.