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[Fantasia ’21] ‘You Can’t Kill Meme’ review: Alt-right magic & real life fears

Do you believe in magic?

You Can’t Kill Meme is part of the growing number of documentaries that explore the connection between meme culture and the alt right. It also looks at the power of memes and manipulation on society in general. The effect of the internet is unquestioned, but can a significant number of people really be convinced to do anything by an internet joke?  And if son, would anyone even notice?

The documentary explores many familiar ideas. Pepe the Frog, Kek, and 4chan are all brought up. The difference is it does not have the access of some or the focus of others. At first, it seems like it is not bringing anything new to the table. You Can’t Kill Meme looks at memes from a slightly different angle, however. Similar films have discussed isolation and a feeling of community.  Filmmaker Hayley Garrigus does examine these themes, but her film is as much about actual power as it is people.

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The idea of meme magic is an important part of You Can’t Kill Meme. There is an interview with author Kirk Packwood about his book Memetic Magic. While Packwood was not trying to influence any one group of people (he withdrew his book from circulation in 2006 due to guilt), it is interesting to see the line between the book and some of today’s online communities.

[Fantasia '21] 'You Can't Kill Meme' review: Alt-right magic & real life fears

Beyond seeing the “results” of meme magic, Garrigus talks to some of its practitioners. In a clever bit, You Can’t Kill Meme discusses the importance of shamans while showing clips of political figures. Overall, there is a great use of footage. You Can’t Kill Meme loses its way a bit with some of the interviews. They show how different people use meme magic, but in many cases they go on for too long. Things become insulated and less relatable.

Ultimately, this may be the point of the documentary. You Can’t Kill Meme is not about showing how everyone uses memes to alter political races or magic to cast spells. It is about how there are some people in the world who do. And in their search for power, they are also trying to change the world. It makes for a unique – and disturbing – watch.

The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25

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