Sunday, November 4, 2012

Presidential and Political, Memes and the Internet

Given the rise of the internet and social media's use in the past two Presidential Elections, especially by Obama, it's no surprise how many political memes have sprung up about the elections and the influence the internet has had on politics. Today I'll detail some of the more notable memes and incidents directly related to the elections. For more on these and other memes, check out

2008 Political Memes
The first notable meme goes back to 2007 during the early part of the Democratic Primary when the satirical website Barely Political released the video Crush on Obama not long after he announced his bid for the presidency. The video gained Obama significant coverage and brought him to the forefront of the Primaries. The actress in the video, Amber Lee Ettinger, became known as Obama Girl and created more Obama Girl related stuff, including a website,, and several other videos that garnered nearly as many views as the first video, in addition to numerous parodies by others. Obama Girl's popularity is often credited with giving Obama a significant boost in visibility during the primaries and may have been a major factor in him winning the Democratic Nomination.

As the Primaries finished, graphic designer and street artist Shepard Fairey created two posters of Obama, one first featuring the tagline "Progress" and the second "Hope". The second poster caught on, spreading virally over the internet after being digitized, becoming a major symbol for Obama's campaign and creating numerous parodies, which saw a revival in 2012 after a parody version with Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain was used on the Daily Show when they reported on Cain's sexual harassment lawsuits.

When Obama became the democratic candidates, the Birther Movement formed under the insistence that Obama wasn't born in the United States despite the evidence and demanded that he release his birth certificate. Soon numerous joke birth certificates started appearing online mocking the birthers, with some being mistaken as actual certificates proving Obama's foreign born status by birthers, resulting in further mockery of the movement.

After the 2008 Vice-Presidential Debate, several memes sprouted, the most notable being 4-Panel Comics featuring screen captures of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin from the debate, which started with a comic mocking Palin's debate abilities and Tina Fey's portrayal on Saturday Night Live (top left corner below) and gained considerable popularity after The Ginblog posted the article 15 Reasons Sarah Palin Will Never Win Any Argument featuring 15 of the more popular comics that had been created at the time. Many more comics were created, with most of them mocking Palin.

Numerous other political memes were created, most of which are sampled in the below video.

The Obama Presidency
38b.jpgFollowing Obama's victory, the right-wing tried to mobilize their base in protests against Obama using some of the still lingering misconceptions about him and the economic downturn created by the Bush Administration in the form of the Tea Party protests, and quickly made its presence known, both online and in real life. The party's over zealous nature, colorful characters and frequent misunderstanding of the facts lead to quick parodying on the internet, the most famous of which is Teabonics, drawing attention to the numerous misspellings and grammar mistakes on Tea Party signs and slogans like the one seen below.

When the Wall Street market crashed and significant corruption within it exposed, the Occupy movement quickly formed with the help Twitter and grew with as it spread on social media, eventually seeing protests the world over as it protested against the wealthy, dubbed the 1%, appropriating and mishandling money from everyone else, aka the 99%.

On May 1st, 2011, political staffers in Washington began excitedly tweeting that Osama bin Laden was dead, and the story was quickly picked up by numerous news agencies. Less than an hour later President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a US military operation and the story soon spread around the world, with the various articles on the story reaching a combined peak of 4.1 million views per second the world over. During the events news of Osama's death set a new record for the “highest sustained rate of Tweets ever”. As the Whitehouse began distributing various images and information to the media several memes were created, most notable one of Obama and various officials watching the operation live in the White House's The Situation Room, which quickly became a favorite of photoshoppers as the original became the typical run photo for stories on Osama's death.

During all this, President Obama was trying to implement his Healthcare reform plan, aka Obamacare, which saw its own presence on the internet, both or and against. This all came to a head when several state lawsuits against Obamacare where merged and brought before the Supreme Court. A Republican attempt to gather digital signatures and print them out in real time for a video feed was quickly hijacked by trolls who began submitting false and irreverent names in the thousands before the plug was pulled on the project and coverage of the incident significantly hampered Republican efforts to continue. When the Supreme Court announced that Obamacare would remain largely intact, many celebrated with newly created meme images.

The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are a set of bills, for the U.S. Senate and House respectively, designed to provide the government and copyright holders with powers to block access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods,” especially those registered outside the United States. Since they're introduction on May 11th, 2011, the proposed bills have been met by opposition from various digital rights activists and bloggers for their encroachment in online activities protected under the first amendment of free speech, broad and generalizing laws that would make the internet less secure and more vulnerable to attack if implemented and a clear lack of knowledge about how the internet works by the bills' creators and most vocal supporters. Public aware of the bills rose dramatically when congressional hearings for both bills began on November 16th. Originally the bills had significant support with the House and Senate from both parties, but as the public became more aware of the issues, thanks to protests against companies that supported the bill like website host, which lost over 70,000 domain site, and blackout campaigns that included sites like Google, Wikipedia and Reddit, and the revelation that congress men that supported the bills had little understanding of how both the internet and the bills functioned and had merely been acting on the instructions of the entertainment industry, public opinion of the bills became very negative and the majority of congressmen began opposing the bills, which have since been delayed indefinitely. The wide spread attention of the bills has significantly increased public and political awareness of the importance of internet freedom and other attempts to create internet censorship in the United States, which have a rise in scrutiny and failure.

The 2012 Republican Primaries
8c4.jpg4c4.jpeg During the 2012 Republican Primaries several incidents and gaffes by candidates saw wide spread across the internet and became major memes, in part thanks to several new tools available on the internet, including every candidate having a twitter feed and Google launching a new Politics page that made it easier for people to get up to the minute news and track the candidates' popularity down to individual counties. As the Primaries started getting under way new data gather options and social media availability allowed people a better analyze candidate's public relations, cumulation when Tumblr released infographics showing common tags on Tumblr posts about each candidate as well as the number of posts mentioning the candidates since the start of the primaries, especially noting the rise in Rick Parry mentions after posts critical of and/or parodying his "Strong" ad, like the one below, went viral and caused his popularity to plummet. Michele Bachmann also saw considerable notoriety after an unpublished mockup of her on the cover of Newsweek leaked onto the internet that many say depicted her as being deranged, and many photoshoped images were created using the photo. A piece on the Daily Show featured the image and the various parodies drew considerable attention after pointing out that Bachmann should not be discriminated for her looks, but for her positions and proceeded to highlight numerous extremist views she held, which lost her considerable support.

The 2012 Presidential Election
The 2012 Presidential Election saw considerable internet involvement, with the new technological tools used in the Republican Primaries also used in the Presidential Election, while some site rolled out new features for the election, like YouTube's new Politics channel. Right off the bat when Romney's senior campaign adviser commented that Romney's national campaign was "like an Etch-A-Sketch" and everything he had said during the primaries could be ignored, which drew significant criticism. The comments created considerable buzz and numerous parodies featuring things like various drawing of Mitt Romney on an Etch-A-Sketch, Romney holding Etch-A-Sketchs during his campaign and even a popular twitter feed where Romney appropriated famous quotes. So much buzz was created that Ohio Art Co., the company that manufactures Etch-A-Sketches, saw their stock prices double and the company released aa series of ads to capitalize on the publicity.
During the election the Obama campaign released "The Life of Julia" website, designed to highlight the government assistance women would receive through out their life under the Obama administration through a series of slides. The site saw numerous parodies, made easy in part due to the site's simple and stylized graphics, ranging from real women's experiences through life, Conservative versions, extremely pessimistic versions, and depictions of other women in other times and places.
When the Romney campaign launched an iPhone app that allowed people to put various Republican slogans on their photos, it drew considerable media attention when it was revealed one of the slogans was misspelled, reading "A Better Amercia", which was quickly capitalized on by the internet with numerous parody photos.
During a campaign speech in Virginia, Obama began talking about the role of government in the lives of the people, he talked about how people didn't build things like roads and bridges, but needed those roads in order to function properly. However, do to poor wording the Republican party began broadcasting an ad featuring a small part of the speech, which implied that Obama was saying that small business owners didn't built their business themselves. Conservatives quickly capitalized on the key phrase "You didn't build that", creating numerous images and single issue blogs, but when the media began analyzing the full speech and the public became aware of the actual meaning of the phrase the meme quickly died off as backlashes against the conservatives grew.

9ee.jpgIn late September a video of Romney at a fundraiser in May showed him speaking about his belief that 47% of Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them” that will never vote for him, and so he won't worry about them or try to court their vote. The video received enormous attention from both the media and the internet, where it was revealed that the 47% figure was taken from the number of people who don't pay federal income tax, and that these people didn't pay it because either they were underage, they or their spouse was an active duty soldier and thus exempt, or they didn't earn enough to be charged federal income tax, which meant they were living in poverty. Romney drew heavy criticism for the statement, and in his official response said that the comments were “not elegantly stated” but did not deny his belief in his statements nor apologized for them, which drew even further critisim.
a03.jpgDuring the First Presidential Debate, Romney made the comment that he would stop subsidies to PBS, despite his proclaimed love for Big Bird. Moments after saying that Twitter ignited with #FiredBigBird and #BigBirdRomney hash tags, and by the end of the debate #SaveBigBird had trended to number 4 and Reddit saw numerous images about the topic featuring numerous anti-Romney and pro-PBS slogans. The Obama campaign was able to take advantage of the bad publicity, highlighting Romney's desire to stop subsidies to PBS but deregulate Wall Street back to the same levels of the Bush Administration, while others pointed out that PBS' subsidies were a fraction of the subsidies that oil and gas companies get, despite their record profits larger than their subsidies, and that removing those subsidies first would have a much greater impact that PBS'.
In early October Romney began trying to backtrack from his previous 47% statement, calling it "completely wrong" whenever asked about it. The unfortunate side effect of this as the story spread was that when searching the phrase "Completely wrong", it would return links to official Romney material, and image search would be nothing but images of Romney. The phrase quickly trended to the third most searched phrase on Google which ended up bringing the 47% comment back into the news cycle.
Not long after, Time Magazine did a piece on Paul Ryan's workout routine, which had been the subject of much interest when it was reveal Ryan was a "Fitness Freak". In the piece were several staged shots of Ryan in his workout clothes using various weights, which were released online soon after. The photos' staged look and Ryan's overly involved look quickly drew attention, first with the creation of a Twitter feed by Ryan's Biceps and later with images featuring Mansplaining text about various topics like the economy and health care parody Ryan's nonspecific explanations and defensive answers during the campaign, which primarily come from the website Mansplaining Ryan, which continues to update.
During the Vice Presidential Debate, Joe Biden would constantly wear a smirk and chuckle before calling Ryan on a lie or misdirection, which turned out to be quite frequent during the debate, and images of him smirking quickly became known as Laughing Joe Biden and the media commented on how this seemed to unsettle Ryan, causing him to lose his focus towards the end and how much of a factor the laugh was in Ryan loosing the debate.
During the Second Presidential Debate, when asked about what he would about pay inequality, Mitt Romney recalled how when he was Governor he had gotten "Binders Full of Women" to hire to his staff in an effort to create gender equality in the government. The statement quickly went viral due to the absurdity of the literal meaning and the revelation that Romney had been given a binder full of resumes by the non-partisan women's group MassGAP before the election along with his opponent, and that Romney had nothing to do with the creation of "Binders Full of Women".
At the Third Presidential Debate, Romney criticized Obama's plan to reduce the size of the US Navy, asserting that there are currently less ships now that at the beginning of World War I. Obama rebutted that military might wasn't just measured by the number of ships but also the technological advances and capabilities those ships had, saying "Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. It’s not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our priorities?’” The line Horses and Bayonets quickly exploded on the internet, out pacing Romney's Binder line from the previous debate, topped Google's trend list of searches during the debate and became the most twitted line from the debate.
Since the entering the final stretch of the election many have been wondering if the internet would have any further impact on the race, including what impact any new GIFs will have.

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