When @GothShakira’s images come up on my “Explore” grid on Instagram, I know they’re hers before I click. These intersectional feminist image macros are instantly recognizable for their recurrent use of paparazzi photos of Latinx celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez and Shakira, looking unimpressed or smitten or anywhere in between, and their unusual text-to-image ratio.
The vast majority of image macros use a concise, pithy caption that purports to be applicable to anyone regardless of their race/class/gender (think Pepe or Mr. Krabs). Dré, the Montreal-based author of the GothShakira account and self-proclaimed “High Priestess of Dank Memery,” shares intricate, intimate, yet relatable narratives in her captions, lamenting misogynist men (AKA fuccbois), making bell hooks references and detailing her profound knowledge of astrology.
The ethos of GothShakira’s output is aligned with fellow women meme-makers @sensualmemes and @scariest_bug_ever, who encourage each other to make more original memes in a virtual community of women-identifying meme-makers who draw from their daily lives. “We’re just girls who like memes. And we’re kind of weird,” Dré tells me. Thematic similarities transcend geographic and cultural specificity, dismantling the hyper-controlled images of women circulating online that cater to the male gaze.
I interviewed GothShakira in April 2016 to discuss her motives and process of authorship. Among other things, I wanted know if her selfies make her accountable for her output. More generally, I wanted to learn about the transgressive, empowering potential of intersectional feminism in memes.
Merray Gerges: You feature Jennifer Lopez of all eras, Selena Gomez and Shakira. It’s rare for a woman of colour to see someone in mainstream media who not just physically resembles her but whose experience as a racialized woman she can relate to.
Dré: That’s exactly why I do it. The reason I started with people like J. Lo and Selena Gomez is because they are prominent, vastly recognizable women who are Latinx, and a really key dimension to the meme format is recognisability. I use Shakira in my Instagram handle and sometimes in my memes because she’s half-Colombian and Colombian-born, which I am as well, so it feels fitting. One thing that I noticed over the past winter that I spent immersing myself in Internet culture was this trend of non-black people using images of black people as reactions, and using elements of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in captions. I know that I, like many others, have been guilty of appropriation in that respect so I strive to keep myself in check as much as possible and to be open to being called out on it. I find this really problematic, so that’s why I was like, “If I’m making memes, it’s coming from my own perspective.”
MG: It’s easy for someone who makes memes to hide behind the anonymity of their handle and to evade accountability for their output, but you post selfies every so often.
D: I post selfies and things about my life because accountability is really important to me. No disrespect to people who wanna be savage and real online but are scared of the repercussions if people they know in real life find their page—I can empathize with that. But I wanted to do something different, like, “If I’m gonna advance these very real socio-political values and objectives that are a very integral part of who I am, why hide?”
MG: Your anti-colonialist and anti-heteropatriarchal politics clearly come through in all of your memes. Your feminism is explicit and unapologetic and intersectional.
D: That’s really the number one thing that I wanted to do, to be transparent as well about how I’m going through my own process of decolonization and unlearning toxic things I internalized in my youth. I’m trying to learn more about the experiences and realities of trans people, for example, which I can’t identify with on a personal level but which are important for me to learn about and acknowledge to be inclusive and to be an ally. I’m fully cognizant that the dating memes that I make are about dating straight cis men, and I’d love to see more memes about queer and trans dating. Or describing non-white-passing POC experiences. There’s a relatively new account called @strippermemes about sex-work experiences that I think is so important.
MG: A prevalent theme is fuccbois versus thotties. You describe what has generally come to be understood as a subgenre of misogynist man, “The Fuccboi.”
D: In the larger taxonomical classification of “The Fuccboi” there are different subspecies of fuccbois but the one that I’m very familiar with is a very Montreal-specific, some would say hipster, skater, graphic designer-producer-DJ-type. He’s a pseudo-sensitive dude who would vehemently reject the label of fuccboi but who still demonstrates fuccboi-like behaviour.
A photo posted by HIGH PRIESTESS OF DANK MEMERY (@gothshakira) on Apr 29, 2016 at 8:27am PDT
MG: The self-identification as a thottie, and to reclaim “thot” even though it’s not really for us to reclaim goes back to what we were saying earlier about using Ebonics in our language as non-black people of colour.
D: I like the word “hoe.” As a sexually active woman who has been verbally shamed for having multiple partners, it’s important to me that that word eventually becomes empowering. Some people are more intent on taking back the word “slut,” which I’m down for too, but “hoe” is a part of my vernacular. I’ll be like, “Oh, it’s hoeing season,” but if I’m appropriating anything in using the word “hoe,” I would appreciate and be open to feedback and dialogue on it.
MG: Astrology is a recurring theme in your #astrologyhoemonday memes. Astrology has gotten pretty trendy over the past while, but not many people delve past pop-astrology. It’s clear that you know what’s up, though.
D: I started informally studying astrology three or four years ago. I was raised in a very religious evangelical Christian immigrant home, where that would be considered occult, taboo and satanic. I was never allowed to even consider it. But it compelled me, so I started to invest in reading a ton about it online.
One of the major themes in my memes is the tension between self-loathing and self-love. Sometimes the two blend together, like I’m making fun of myself, sometimes in my captions I’ll write, “I despise myself”, ’cause, like, I do. I make myself cringe on the daily. But I also really love myself, and I’m on this perpetual quest to know more about myself. So where does the self-loathing end and the self-love begin and vice versa? Astrology to me is a form of self-love, because it stems from self-awareness and self-knowledge. It acts as an access point to commune with a higher power and divine intention.
M: You use interchangeable images of some of the same women at different stages of their high-visibility careers, but to me they all represent a singular character that stems from your own singular lived experience. The subject of these memes is an oracle; she’s hard-done-by but she shrugs it off; she’s all-knowing and wise; she’s intuitive; she just wants to get laid (she’s too emancipated to be tied down anyway) and she’s too good for these fuccbois with fragile masculinities, and she’s tired of educating them, and tired of educating white people (which you very aptly use Iggy Azalea as a stand-in for—your memes with J. Lo and Iggy Azalea are the one good thing to come out of the career of a white rapper who is a serial cultural appropriator despite multiple public call-outs).
D: What I’m trying to convey is this: here’s a person with this very hard shell that she’s built up over years of being repressed in a lot of different ways, knowing almost too much about the unequal power dynamics in North American society from seeing and experiencing a lot of it firsthand. But this is also a person who is trying so hard to be tender. This is also a person who just wants to get laid and is too good for these fuccbois, but also just wants to be loved.
I’m a multi-dimensional person and this is what I try to convey in my memes, too. I’m trying to present that duality, that duality that doesn’t have to be separated, that we all struggle to integrate what we believe and how we act into our sense of self.
MG: That completely comes through. That’s why I think the medium of memes is really apt as a vehicle for all of these complex and contradictory sentiments.
D: What I love about the medium of the meme is that it’s very unpretentious. The memes I make are “supposed” to be poorly done and are intentionally atrocious from a graphic-design perspective. I make them quickly so the spacing is off and the font sizes are different and the image is stretched out but that’s the point. I’m not going to agonize over this because it’s just a fucking meme. It’s very liberating to operate as an Internet artist, I suppose, if you wanna use that term, in a medium that’s very informal.
MG: Right, but then you still watermark them so that however far they circulate they still retain a stamp of your authorship.
D: I put off the decision to watermark as long as I could, honestly, because I thought it’d be so corny. Part of me was scared, because most of them are very personal and awkward, but I decided to claim them. It’s like putting a message in a bottle and launching it out into the Cyber Ocean. If someone unrolls the little parchment inside at least they’ll know who sent it.
I recently saw on Tumblr that someone had ripped off the text from one of my memes and reformatted it with a reaction image of a black woman instead and it had gotten thousands and thousands of notes, and I was like, “Hey, I wrote that,” but someone had turned it into something else. It made me think really deeply about issues of ownership on the Internet and the medium of memes in and of itself. It’s kind of like the blues music genre where you basically rip off other people’s creations and it’s supposedly not necessarily plagiarism, it’s just a variation on a theme. But I still got angry: I wrote that very specifically and very eloquently, if I may say that, and someone just stole it and that doesn’t feel good. I tell myself that at the end of the day, they’re just memes, but then a part of me is like, “But in a way they’re not just memes.”
MG: I think it’s important even if the potential outcome from having a commercially successful meme account with millions of followers isn’t a goal for you. I don’t think you’re looking to be like franchized handles FuckJerry or FatJewish, but I only bring them up—and their accounts are pretty terrible now—because their branding emblazons all sorts of merchandise, even though they’re only content aggregators and have been called out for not crediting their sources. Asserting your authorship of these personal narratives is of utmost importance because, as a woman of colour, I tell people about the racist microaggressions that I experience on a daily basis and they don’t believe me. They tell me that I’m being too sensitive or that I’m exaggerating or misreading, like, “Did this really happen to you? Give that person the benefit of the doubt.”
D: I feel that a lot. And I always wonder, “Am I just too aware of certain things to ever be able to relate to anyone in an honest way?” You’ve probably felt this too, where you’re like, “Do I speak up or do I say nothing for the sake of avoiding conflict?” What I’m doing is actually terrifying to me. I look at my account right now and the fact that over 2,000 people are following my Internet presence is actually terrifying. I’m an introvert and a pretty private person when it comes to my IRL, personal life. But if one woman of colour who’s felt like an outsider sees them and says “SAME,” that’s everything to me and that’s really why I do it.
A photo posted by HIGH PRIESTESS OF DANK MEMERY (@gothshakira) on May 2, 2016 at 11:34am PDT