Memes have been a strong influencer in our daily lives and culture in the past decade. A meme is defined by Dictionary.com as “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Memes can be about virtually anything: a specific event, a feeling, specific people, cultural phenomenons – something people can relate to. Memes are mass-produced images that will make someone feel something, usually humor or relatability.
Memes can be a tricky medium to navigate. Sometimes memes that aren’t funny are deemed “cringey”, and then the humor comes from making fun of the meme for trying to be funny when it isn’t. Politicians who have attempted to use memes often hit or miss this funny versus cringey mark, which raises the question of whether or not they should participate.
A lot of times, people will relate memes to politics and politicians. Politicians sometimes find themselves becoming memes themselves. The greatest example of this, is without a doubt the meme known as “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.” This meme erupted during the 2016 presidential election, when internet user saw similarities between presidential candidate Ted Cruz and the infamous sketch of the 1960’s era serial killer, causing the facetious argument that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer.
People love memes. They’re funny and relatable and even serve as a means of communicating with each other. Ted Cruz used this to his advantage on Halloween in 2018 by tweeting a picture of the coded message that the Zodiac killer sent to newspapers as hints to who he was, with the caption “Happy Halloween.” Cruz did this while he was in the middle of campaigning for senator, using the meme to his advantage to go viral and gain popularity in the middle of a heated senate race. Cruz’s meme awareness made him charismatic. He was in on the joke that everyone else was in on and showed that not only was he not above the humor that most Americans indulge in, he’s funny too.
Former president Barack Obama is another politician who capitalized on meme culture. From posing with USA Gymnast and Olympic Gold Medalist McKayla Maroney in her meme “not impressed” pose, to making videos at the White House in reference to the “Thanks Obama” meme. Obama did it with just the right amount of humor and awareness that wasn’t cringey and didn’t seem forced. Memes allowed us to get an insight on Obama’s humor and personality, which was helpful for his likability.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, tried to use memes and found herself becoming one: Pokemon “Go to the polls” was something Clinton said on the 2016 presidential campaign trail to try to relate to younger voters and influence them to vote for her. This backfired for Clinton, making her a meme, instead of her simply being a “meme utilizer.” Clinton’s poor meme usage led to people pegging her as old and disingenuous. She was seen as “cringey” and therefore she became a meme in a bad way. Meme usage will only lead to likability if the memes are funny and relatable, which is why politicians need to use memes the right way if they’re going to choose to use them.
Recently, Donald Trump shared a doctored video on his Twitter account of Joe Biden mocking former vice president Joe Biden’s apology concerning his past touchiness with his constituents. Trump received a lot of flack for this Tweet, which raised the question of whether politicians should utilize memes in their social media, and when they push it too far. Memes can be offensive, and offending people is something politicians risk when they use them. Politicians have to watch out for backlash if they want to properly assimilate into meme culture.
Some people may think that politicians using memes is unprofessional and silly. The people running our country shouldn’t be making jokes about being the Zodiac killer or indulging in self-deprecating humor as Obama did with “Thanks Obama.” We have culturally invited politicians to have a seat at the “meme table” when we put them into our meme culture. In the age of social media and politicians trying to establish their place as public figures on the internet, this is something that we should acknowledge.
Should politicians recognize their place in meme culture? Or should they just continue with business as usual and ignore it? With the growing importance of social media to politicians, especially on the campaign trail, it would be foolish to not take advantage of memes in their social media presence, if done correctly.
Politicians shouldn’t ignore memes, as crazy as a statement as that may seem. In our culture that is only becoming more “meme-aware,” for politicians to not use memes will further date them as old and out of touch. At the same time, however, politicians run the risk of being shamed if their memes are out of touch or seem forced. It’s a tricky line that they must walk, but it’s a step in the right direction to politicians to become more in touch with their younger constituents. As long as it doesn’t seem like pandering, politicians should start using memes tastefully.
Mikayla Rochelle is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Mikayla by tweeting her at @mikayla_roch.