Discover

How the Umbrella ‘Revolution’ meme hurt the movement in Hong Kong

Jason Li is a Hong Kong based designer and consultant. He primarily works with tech companies and startups in Asia. With An Xiao Mina he co-founded The Civic Beat, where people discuss using technology for social and political change.

Here, he weighs in on how the #UmbrellaRevolution hashtag and Internet memes both helped and hindered the recent protest movement to emerge out of Hong Kong.


HKClassBoycottSelfies

The ongoing protests for democracy in Hong Kong have been dubbed by many as the “Umbrella Revolution.” But days before the term was created, the dominant internet meme supporting the protests was built around student selfies accompanied by hashtags #HKClassBoycott and #HKStudentStrike. This was in line with what was then a students-only protest. Supporters participated by finding a photo of themselves as a child, often in their student uniform, and posting a picture of it to Instagram and Facebook. Some participants chose to decorate their photos with a yellow ribbon for democracy as well.

“Umbrella Revolution” only appeared in the media after local police forces unleashed a barrage of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters last Sunday. Unarmed citizens defended themselves with nothing but surgical face masks, science-class goggles and ordinary umbrellas. Shortly after the clash, stunning photos of protesters holding up their umbrellas amidst a sea of tear gas spread like wildfire across the internet and the term “Umbrella Revolution” was coined.

Unfortunately, the word “revolution” has extremist connotations that do not help but hinder the protest. To begin with, calling it a revolution is simply inaccurate: people are asking not for overthrow of the Hong Kong government, or of China, but for a more representative government. To add to that, CUHK Professor Wong Hung believes that it gives Beijing the wrong idea and encourages them to crack down on the protesters. Pro-establishment politicians Tam Yiu-chung and Robert Chow have also used the term on TV and in interviews to paint a stereotype of out-of-touch, extremist protesters. In that way, while the visual imagery of the Umbrella Revolution is uplifting for most people, its name has sparked unnecessary controversy and internet memes are to blame.

After the events of Sunday when non-students also joined the fray, the umbrella very quickly became the dominant visual. By the time I woke up Monday morning, the press, led by the BBC, had already cemented the popularity of #UmbrellaRevolution as the dominant hashtag, and the internet memes followed.

UMHKhashtags1-600x321

During this time, the term “revolution” was met with some on-the-ground resistance. Given the lack of survey data, I only have anecdotal evidence to support this claim:

To be perfectly clear, #OccupyCentral was and remains the most popular hashtag. But it doesn’t lend itself to a visual treatment the way #UmbrellaRevolution did. Additionally, #UmbrellaMovement itself never took off, at least in English.

UMHKhashtags2-600x320

Because the umbrella is such an easily drawn, easily shared visual symbol, it quickly made its way across the internet. People who could not make it to the protest, whether if it was because they were abroad or had to stay home to take care of kids, phoned in with illustrations of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution.”

UMHKimages

During the earlier part of the week, my colleagues and I at The Civic Beat collected over a hundred umbrella memes before giving up after we realized that hundreds more were to come from a widely-shared Facebook design competition, a Facebook group and at least one Tumblr devoted to the same task.

My theory is that these umbrella images became so popular on the internet that they made their way into the protest itself. Most protesters were constantly on their cell phones and, despite rumors, the internet connection was never cut during the protest. So it’s easy to see how symbols and messages on the internet might have influenced what protesters thought.

2014-10-01 23.33.20

2014-10-02 00.05.37

Unfortunately, the “revolution” moniker also made its way into many umbrella images, as if imposed from above. Protesters may have also noticed that the international press paid attention to the “Umbrella Revolution,” and borrowed the term to spread the word further.

2014-10-03-23.58.47-600x600

2014-10-04 03.04.58

This is where internet memes and foreign media headlines of the “Umbrella Revolution” (currently the cover of Time in Asia) clashed with the interests of many protesters, including that of the leading organizations:

image08

2014-10-04 15.54.52

Internet memes and the foreign press may be at fault for coining the “revolution” moniker, but they have also been instrumental in making the movement as successful as it is now. Early on in the protests, internet memes helped build public awareness by allowing people to silently show their support by posting an image or changing their profile picture. (Many profile pictures on Facebook have become variations of the yellow ribbon for democracy.) The foreign press plays an even bigger role, in both creating avenues for public debate as well as fulfilling their role as a watchdog for malpractice. So while the internet public and foreign press have been overwhelmingly-positive influences, it’s also due time for them to reflect on the power they wield.

hong-kong-democracy-protest665Hong Kong Democracy Protest

1411911242378_wps_51_epa04421376_Police_sprays

This article originally appeared on Jason Li’s blog 88 bar on October 4th.

Edited by Graham Webster and Ada.

Follow Jason Li

Recent Posts

The character will not be the only one who modifies his image in the new of ‘The Avengers’ Besides being one of Marvel’s funniest films, Watch Thor Ragnarok Full movie online ‘ is a film that contains some key data for the evolution of the MCU’s cosmic plot, already launched towards the imminent confrontation with Thanos in ‘Infinity War ‘ . And is that in addition to the return of the Hulk, the new adventure of… [read more »]

A Conversation about Ergonomic Futures

Lafayette Anticipation associate curator Anna Colin talks to artist Tyler Coburn about Ergonomic Futures, a speculative project engaged with art, design, science, anthropology and writing. In this interview, Coburn discusses the research, production process and network of collaborators of a multilayered project ultimately concerned with the futures of humankind. Anna Colin: When one comes across your museum seats Ergonomic Futures (2016—) in contemporary art exhibitions—and soon in natural history, fine art, and anthropology museums—they look… [read more »]

nils lange + saliva : l’eau des algues

L’Eau des Algues Two alchemists already aware of each other’s Instagrams meet for the first time in a gay sauna. They are swimming; it’s the Hood By Air afterparty in Paris. They are Lukas Hofmann and Nils Amadeus Lange. Months later, they meet again. They are on the edge of yet another steaming pool; it’s the Manifesta Biennale closing event at Cabaret Voltaire. They are performing the perfume titled “L’eau des Algues.” Head notes: Zürich… [read more »]

Toward a Low Key Voting System Where Votes Are Actually Considered | Adrian Massey

While reading A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory, I came across the following passage, “If you want people to vote, we need to move to a more decentralized system in which every vote really does count enough to outweigh the lack of enthusiasm for voting which so many people obviously feel…Simply repeating the slogan that ‘every vote counts’ isn’t ever going to work, because it isn’t true.” I was jarred. For me, anecdotally knowing… [read more »]

Tough Luck | Tyler Reinhard

When life is being super unfair, just do what we all do: suffer the consequences. I wake up and the first thing I do is check my phone. A convenient euphemism for using Facebook’s machine learning techniques to discover which 300 entries are statistically most likely to stand out from the tens of thousands of brain dumps my friends and family have produced over the last 48 hours. Impressed by what Facebook provides, I think… [read more »]

America Is Hard to See: A Guide to not being depressed about US electoral politics this November

In order to make sense of state politics in the birthplace of statistical marketing and the internet, one has to be wary of the effects of these technologies on the country’s popular media. In a time when our news and advertisements are tailored to our pre-recorded political opinions, it can be especially difficult to empathize with differing political views. Likewise, learning about the histories of state politics is not encouraged by platforms that profit from… [read more »]

On self-care and the election | Eva Saelens

We can get together and laugh about it. We can heave sighs and express disbelief, but it’s never enough. This presidential election year has lasted for years, and they sit on citizens like a slick film. We feel touched by an unshakable germ, invaded by a blood-sucker, afflicted by a social cancer, drained of the plump vitality of life and the amazing liberty of choices, and transformed into a cynical, depressed shrivel. After being touched… [read more »]

Swarovski Crystal Meth at National Sawdust

Swarovski Crystal Meth, a collaboration between Ser Serpas, Daniela Czenstochowski and Gia Garrison for the National Sawdust “Selkie Series” performances, curated by Alexandra Marzella. Music composed and produced by Daniela Czenstochowski Poem by Sera Serpas Sound Edit Mateo Majluf Vocals Sera Serpas, Gia Garrison and Daniela Czenstochowski All Images Olimpia Dior i went to the desert con mi mama outlet store shopping is fried onto mi conciensa, big bags, wins bigger losses fragmented lux economy… [read more »]

Hasbeens and Willbees Auction @ Romeo Gallery

Shop items from the most recent Hasbeens and Willbees luxury auction now! Featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Bror August, Women’s History Museum, Lou Dallas, Hermes, Gautier, and more. All photography Dillon Sachs Styling Avena Gallagher Hosted by Rome Gallery NYC

NHU DUONG SS17 WORK COLLECTION FT. KARL HOLMQVIST

What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]