I’ve been seeing the ‘govern me harder, daddy’ meme going around recently and apparently, it’s bothering me enough to do some meme analysis. If you haven’t seen the meme, along with the above text, it depicts an expressionless non-player character (NPC) who has a QR code on his forehead, a ball gag over his face mask and three needles sticking into his shoulders. I'll insert the image below, even though it pains me to do so:
Oh man, I wince when I see it. Not just because I am pro-public health measures, but also because I think it’s weirdly shaming of BDSM. This meme portrays submission as something to be mocked. It implies that submission is unintelligent or unquestioning compliance. It suggests the same thing about getting vaccinated or wearing a mask.
The metaphor of Domination/submission in relation to Covid-19 measures can only go so far because D/s dynamics only impact the people involved, whereas choices around Covid-19 have much wider community and global impacts. But to work with this limited metaphor for a moment more, I will say that submission is not passive or automatic. Even though there can be deep experiences of surrender and receptivity, this is different from passivity. Submission is an active, engaged, and intentional experience.
For many people, there are specific conditions to their submission and only certain people they would choose to submit to in a Dom/sub dynamic. For instance, I would only choose to erotically submit to an emotionally-attuned feminist Dom. In the same way, there are specific conditions that determine my intellectual submission. In regard to effective public health measures against Covid-19, I happily submit to the scientific consensus. In both of these cases, submission is not shameful or something to be derided. It’s a considered and rewarding choice. In these examples, I simply don’t associate submission with a loss of power.
Even submitting to government mandates and regulations is nothing new. We are following government regulations when we obey traffic laws or adhere to workplace health and safety rules. However, it’s also true that the government mandates and recommendations from health officials regarding covid-19 have directly impacted and changed most people’s lives in new and dramatic ways. For this reason, it’s unsurprising that the pandemic has stirred up a lot of feelings about authority. It’s also understandable that there is a level of mistrust in governments which have historically acted in ways that have harmed human, animal, and planetary wellbeing. Yet, in the face of the pandemic, at least in NZ and Australia, many government officials have in turn, chosen to submit to the health advice of medical professionals.
All of this to say, there is nothing innately wrong with submitting to an authority outside of one’s self. It can be incredibly relieving to acknowledge that we don’t have specialist knowledge in certain areas and to choose to trust the people who do. For instance, I imagine it would be exhausting to ‘do my own research’ every time I walk into a new building to ascertain whether or not it is constructed safely. Instead, I trust that the construction workers complied with building regulations, and that the buildings I walk into won’t randomly collapse. It’s okay to trust other people. It’s okay to submit. In fact, we do it all the time.
The refusal to be receptive to specialist knowledge makes me think of men who buy into ‘alpha male’ pick up artist dogma and spend all of their time and energy trying not to be ‘beta males.’ It’s like honey, you don’t always have to try to be in control. That constant exertion sounds very arduous and bad for your blood pressure.
The other thing that pains me about the ‘govern me harder’ meme, is that it merges alt-right and anti-vax content. The meme imagery emerged out of 4chan but is currently being spread by wellness anti-vaxers because it perpetuates the simplistic narrative that people are either ‘sovereign and awake’ spiritual rebels or compliant sheeple/NPCs. There are people in spiritual/wellness scenes who have adopted this meme because it fits with their identity (or brand) of being ‘awake’ and having access to special, unique, or hidden knowledge. Predictably, they have been pedalling alternative ‘hot takes,’ or ‘transmissions’ throughout the entirety of the pandemic. At this point, they almost have to keep railing against the mainstream because their spiritual street cred, social media engagement, and sales depend on it.
The ‘govern me harder’ meme, uses an illustration of a character called ‘Wojak NPC’ which has alt-right origins. In video games, NPCs are the automated computer-generated characters. They can only act and speak in accordance with their programming. It is essentially the alt-right equivalent of calling people ‘sheeple.’ The terms NPC and sheeple are both shorthand ways of dehumanising people.
Referring to left-leaning people as non-player characters (NPCs) is a popular phenomenon amongst Trump supporters on Reddit and 4chan. During the 2018 US mid-term elections, a New York Times article reported that over 1500 members from Reddit’s r/The Donald subreddit created multiple NPC twitter profiles to troll liberals but also to spread election disinformation.
The NPC meme is just one example of how people in spiritual or wellness communities have adopted alt-right imagery and language, seemingly without realising that they are doing so. The wellness to alt-right pipeline has been unfortunately endemic throughout the pandemic.
If you’re worried about intellectual submission, I would worry less about succumbing to the advice of your doctor, and more about succumbing to trends that are propagated by the alt-right trolls of Reddit and 4chan.