We debated whether “favourites” was really the right word for 2020. But given it’s been a tumultuous year, we figured a little consistency wouldn’t hurt for our end-of-year series as the Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors again offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs this year. Watch for more recommendations and reflections in the days ahead. –Eds.

Having spent most of 2020 researching and writing about American foreign policy under President Donald Trump, Australia’s deteriorating relationship with China, or the world in the age of Covid-19, there haven’t been many moments in 2020 that jump out as being memorable in a good way. When I’m not reading or watching things for work, I tend to tune out … like, really far out (I’m talking TV series like Fleabag or BoJack Horseman, so not entirely Interpreter-worthy).

Memes have an enormous impact in shaping social media and shift public opinion and understanding of political and foreign policy issues.

Of course, there have been countless unforgettable moments from 2020 – Trump’s overwhelming dishonesty about Covid-19, or China’s passing of a new national security law for Hong Kong. Both made me stop what I was doing and scream out loud in frustration. But not the sort of things my colleagues had in mind when they asked me to “pick one of my favourite moments” for this annual Interpreter series. A favourite moment from 2020 … something memorable, but which has an international dimension.

A surprisingly tough brief.

Something that has bought a smile to my face, occasionally made me laugh out loud, and just generally helped me navigate through 2020 has been the abundance of extremely hilarious – and at times incredibly intelligent – memes circulating on social media platforms. (And I’m using “memes” in a broad sense here to capture the many clever knowing twists that people include in online content rather than the staple words stamped on a photo version.)

I admit to being a Millennial so, at any one time, I have multiple virtual chats on the go that consist of nothing but the sharing of memes. A favourite is a “conversation” I’ve been having with my little brother since March on Instagram, which consists of nothing but cute dog photos and memes about the craziness of the American election.



And before you tell me, “this doesn’t exactly have an international dimension to it” – don’t. In 2020, online memes and social media jokes have emerged as cross-cultural sources of respite and community. They have cut through the shared sense of global anxiety around Covid-19 and go a long way in helping make sense of the emotional roller coaster that was 2020, and the big foreign policy issues of the day.



Looking back through several threads, I was surprised by how many have an international bent to them. Whether it’s making sense of the American election, Covid-19 or Trump – memes have an enormous impact in shaping social media and shift public opinion and understanding of political and foreign policy issues.

While spending more time online can be both exhausting and enthralling, there’s no doubt that it’s the main way we’re connecting with each other these days – and as a result, it means that internet culture is moving faster than ever, producing a wealth of memes, both humorous and pithy, that reflect the moment we’re living in.

Here are a few additional favourites from 2020.




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