Fantasia Film Festival 2021: You Can’t Kill Meme

A documentary that struggles to find its footing in the world of meme magick.

Synopsis: A hybrid documentary feature film about the genesis of “memetic magick” and its application by the alt-right in the United States

Last year’s Fantasia screened Feels Good, Man – a charming documentary focusing on the creator of Pepe the Frog’s attempts to regain control over his design as it made waves amongst hateful online communities. Arguably the weakest section of that documentary is its brief focus on ‘meme magick’ because it arrives (much like a section on cryptocurrency) as an unnecessary diversion from the core thread. With You Can’t Kill Meme focusing more exclusively on the concept, it would allow for greater depth, but unfortunately, there just doesn’t feel like there is enough to sustain it.

Meme does attempt to provide a central figure to empathise with in R. Kirk Packwood whose book Memetic Magic: Manipulation of the Root Social Matrix and the Fabric of Reality similarly found a home with the online ‘alt-right’, becoming a playbook for their engineering and creation of hateful imagery. However, there are arguably too many contributors here and too many balls to juggle while trying to sell a concept that feels shaky at the outset.

One of the soundbites provided relates to the lack of sincerity in the practice of making and distributing memes, stating that people have ‘banded together on the internet to legitimise idiocy’. This feels like the most potent of the film’s statements, where talent or competency no longer delivers a result, but targeted misinformation campaigns can take hold to shape. As the documentary suggests, Trump was ‘shitposted into power’. It is, at times, an insightful watch, but so often heads off in too many directions.

Sections that look into the potential physics behind the ideas do offer some food for thought, as does the political thinking behind organised movements succeeding better in their causes than more fragmented, individually-driven ones. The ideas of chaos magic never really find a footing and the documentary never makes a convincing case for it. The interviewee selection goes to some strange places, including a lightworker whose claims swiftly lose almost all credibility the longer she stays on camera. This is coupled with some curious choices for interview locations like a busy marketplace that further dulls and disconnects the conversation, making an already muddled and often esoteric outing frustrating rather than compelling.

There is a case to be made that the documentary’s scattered approach to staging interviews, selecting interviewees and switching from subject to subject deliberately echoes the fast paced meme culture it seeks to cover. The references to existing memes and their evolution is well covered initially and some of the coincidences in how they have mutated is given enough time to take on as an uninitiated viewer.

While it can’t be denied that there are elements of interest in You Can’t Kill Meme and internet meme culture is a fascinating area that demands a different kind of exploration, this results in an unconvincing and occasionally alienating journey through it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

You Can’t Kill Meme played as part of Fantasia 2021.

Author: ScaredSheepless

Film and television fan, with a particular love for horror.

One thought on “Fantasia Film Festival 2021: You Can’t Kill Meme”

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