Memes of Mass Destruction

What do memes indicate about nuclear power relations?

  • Jennifer C. Clark Fordham University
Keywords: Nuclear weapons, international studies, nuclear power relations, international power hierarchies, social media, memes, digital culture, participatory politics, digital media


What is the relationship between diplomatic discourse and political memes? What do these themes show us about contemporary power relations? In concentrating on the United States’ nuclear relationship with North Korea, I seek to provide a critical examination of the way in which diplomatic discourse is compressed into visual digital arguments also known as Internet memes. In this paper, I gain insight into this topic by analyzing memes on Kim Jong-Un in conjunction with President Obama’s discourse regarding North Korea circulated between 2011-2016. This analysis shows that memes about Kim Jong-Un reflect and reinforce the recurrent motifs of President Obama’s diplomatic rhetoric: oriental masculinity, isolation, and nuclear terrorism. Based on this research I argue that memes represent a new form of visual political rhetoric that reflect the current international political environment and condense theories of diplomatic relations to a single picture, and show how future scholars can conduct similar analyses of this emerging form of communication.