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The finance of memes

How Reddit's jokes are dividing Wall Street

The finance of memes How Reddit's jokes are dividing Wall Street

The story of the extraordinary success of GameStop, whose shares have increased to disproportionate values after a mass action by micro-investors coordinated on the r/WallStreetBets subbreddit, has aroused a very strong impression both among the so-called sharks of high finance and in the huge base of online meme communities. If the former immediately tried to invoke justice, declaring coordinated mass investments on the Internet illegal (or potentially illegal), the world of memes reacted with attitudes oscillating between the ironic and the triumphal, emphasizing, albeit with a certain simplism, the revolutionary nature of a movement that, starting from an online forum previously unsuspected (and which currently counts 5.7 million participants) has managed to cause huge losses to a world, that of Wall Street and its brokers in suits, until a few days ago perceived as remote and unattainable. Indeed, what happened with GameStop represented the enormous subversive potential that the collective language of memes can have when it is channeled into the context of a community - a visual and verbal language very different from the technical jargon of high finance, as it is fully community and open, culturally layered and highly symbolic as well as strongly emotional and with a certain and immediate grip.

The power of online memes is something to be reckoned with in 2021: remember how, at the time of his very short presidential campaign, Michael Bloomberg had unsuccessfully paid huge sums to become a viral phenomenon through memes; while Budweiser's beer-producing division Bud Light was looking this summer for a CMO (Chief Meme Officer, name that is already a meme in itself) to advertise its drinks through memes, with a $5,000-a-month paycheck. What happened with Game Stop is something very similar but specular: the movement started not from above but from below, and the resulting memes were almost a natural derivative of what was happening in the subreddit discussion and stock markets.. 

It is worth noting, however, that the ideological rhetoric that every meme created for the occasion has adopted is that of retaliation – a clear indicator of a certain social anger, not to say resentment, towards the world of fierce speculation on Wall Street, a place that over the years has become the very symbol of the evils of capitalism, responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008 with its system of accumulatable bets on other bets and which , in today's cultural discourse, is associated with the corruption and greed of the few that ruins the lives of many.

In this sense, memes, seen as humorous metaphors that explain and tell reality, have taken on a completely new communicative role: that of viral tam-tam that grows exponentially and is able to involve huge masses of adherents to the cause through the unthinkable weapon of irony. The meaning of the shift of thought is enclosed in this shift of language: on the one hand the initiation and almost Byzantine jargon of wall street wolves; on the other hand the universal and viral language of memes that in short go around the world. That of memes, however, although more widespread still remains a kind of jargon, neither technical nor professional, but known and recognized only by those who consume memes habitually - the same social group that, until a few days ago, a finance expert would never, ever take seriously.

The nature of this cultural division was highlighted in the same r/WallStreetBets subreddit, in which the user u/sublette313 started a discussion that, in five hours, collected 27.3 thousand reactions and more than 1600 comments. The title of the discussion is We cant let WSB get political no matter what and it reads:

«Basically all of reddit is just political propaganda 24/7. This was the last good place on the internet. The LAST. It was the last actually funny place too. Once in awhile it even had incredible ideas.It's about to be co-opted by politics activists online claiming they care about "this issue". […] I dont want it to be but this place is going to be filled with propaganda and nothing else almost 100% after GME is over».

A fair concern (also given the strong political polarization of American society at the moment) but that in the case of r/WallStreetBets is not occurring at the moment, with a constant stream of memes that, bluntly, strongly antagonize the world of traditional Wall Street or, as perhaps it deserves to be called, the "old" Wall Street. It is not excluded that, after the GameStop affair, Reddit users don't decide to repeat the deal with another company, and as early as this week, as Business of Fashion reports, shares in Naked Brand Group, a swimwear company, and headphone maker Koss Corp., doubled in less than a week, while the subreddit's next mass action would appear to focus on xpresSpa Group Inc., a spa chain converted into spaces for Covid-19 testing.