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COVID-19 and viral anti-Asian racism: A multimodal critical discourse analysis of memes and the racialization of the COVID-19 pandemic

Yan Wu Orcid Logo, Matthew Wall Orcid Logo

Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Volume: 8, Issue: 2, Pages: 107 - 127

Swansea University Authors: Yan Wu Orcid Logo, Matthew Wall Orcid Logo

  • Accepted Manuscript under embargo until: 1st November 2022

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DOI (Published version): 10.1386/jcca_00040_1

Abstract

This article examines how internet memes both enacted and reproduced racialization of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were motivated to undertake this work by a surge in hatred towards and violence against people with East Asian heritage following the outbreak of COVID-19. We focus on memes because of the...

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Published in: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art
ISSN: 2051-7041 2051-705X
Published: Bristol, UK Intellect 2021
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URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa58852
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Abstract: This article examines how internet memes both enacted and reproduced racialization of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were motivated to undertake this work by a surge in hatred towards and violence against people with East Asian heritage following the outbreak of COVID-19. We focus on memes because of their ubiquity in contemporary culture and their capacity to both reflect and shape discourses. We conduct a multimodal critical discourse analysis of two prominent memes – juxtaposing a ‘top-down’ process of meme selection and distribution (the sharing of ‘The Kung-Flu Kid’ meme on Instagram by Donald Trump Jr) with a ‘bottom-up’ process (the ‘Corona-chan’ meme that originated on the website 4chan). We situate our study in a growing literature on politicized memes, challenging an emerging consensus that lauds ‘bottom-up’ memes as a democratizing force enabling resistance to hegemony, inequality and injustice. While we do not reject this characterization outright, we add nuance, showing that racialized memetic discourses around COVID-19 were propagated both from the top-down and from the bottom up. We conclude that memes are particularly powerful communicative tools in racialized discourse because their use of polysemy, humour and cultural reference allows them to subvert the mechanisms that sanction openly racist statements.
Keywords: COVID-19; Corona-chan; Kung-Flu Kid; anti-Asian racism; digital semiology; hegemony; internet memes
College: College of Arts and Humanities
Issue: 2
Start Page: 107
End Page: 127