August 3rd, 2016 // 9:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
“Some Americans are actually using Facebook to choose the President?”
Some articles are deeply serious, others are informational, and still others ask an important question or share valuable history or principles. This one is meant to be fun. But it also has an underlying reality that is worth considering.
For decades the daily political cartoon in newspapers was the pinnacle of political satire in America. Today memes, vines, and jokes on social media have taken its place, and studying these genres tells us a lot about where the American populace stands on top issues.
For example, investment advisor Charles Sizemore recently noted that now we have two of the most hated political candidates in history—Trump and Hillary. This is mirrored by a popular online joke that goes something like this:
Hillary and Trump are in a boat that is sinking in the middle of the ocean. Who gets saved?
Whether dark humor like this offends or causes laughter—as it does with divergent audiences—it usually only goes viral if it reflects something that resonates, one way or the other. To be frank: This election has much of America baffled. Just plain baffled.
“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?” a number of people are asking incredulously. “Really? Those are the only real choices?”
The nation is amazed.
History and Choices
Another meme features a picture of Donald Trump and the caption:
“I don’t always run for president, but when I do, I try to offend as many potential voters as possible.”
Or compare this:
“No matter who you vote for, this election will be historic:
First female president: Hillary Clinton
First Latino president: Marco Rubio
First Jewish president: Bernie Sanders
First Canadian president: Ted Cruz
Last president: Donald Trump”
Some people will laugh at the “Canadian” reference to Cruz. Others will shake their head and call the whole thing tasteless. But the words: “Last President: Donald Trump”? Priceless. Some will agree. Others will adamantly disagree. But it’s worth a laugh. And it communicates something that a lot of people worry about.
Sometimes a certain meme hits really close to home. For example, one says:
“If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he’ll be the first socialist president elected since 2008.”
Another meme shows Senator Clinton with a strong look on her face and the caption:
“Silly Americans. Laws are for poor people.”
A number of the jokes and memes are truly distasteful. Others are downright disgusting. Researching political memes brought me a number of laughs, but the really bad ones made me shake my head in shame for our nation. At least in the days of political cartoons an editor had to sign off. I like the freedom of our current model, but at times people take it too far.
Overall, I don’t know if the memes, vines, and online jokes help our political discourse—or hurt it. Probably some of both. But I do believe that a few of them cleverly capture the nation’s mood in ways we seldom find in the mainstream media. For example, consider the following two memes:
1-A small boy is pictured, about to poke a butter knife into an electrical socket. He’s clearly going to get shocked. The caption reads:
A lot of people are feeling exactly this way right now.
2-Donald Trump is standing next to a huge wall on the border with Mexico, and the wall is lined with gold and stamped with a huge T. The caption reads:
“Think I can’t get Mexico to fund the wall? Well I got the media to fund my campaign!”
Some memes are both sad and funny, like a picture of Jeb Bush with the caption:
“ONE CHILD LEFT BEHIND”
Another meme shows Donald Trump dressed like Biff from Back to the Future, shoving Jeb Bush (dressed as Marty McFly’s teenage dad) into a high school locker. Compare this to a meme with a picture of Nixon. He says: “I deleted 18½ minutes of footage. Hillary Clinton deleted thousands of emails. Who’s the crook now?”
Form Where You’re Standing
I won’t even get into the political vines. They can waste a lot of time, and YouTube is full of the political good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, on the topic of the election, there is a lot of truly ugly. The memes are typically much tamer. And, the more I compared the two, the memes are generally better—funnier, and more effective. (The funniest of the vines I came across is the Trump/Star Wars Emperor dialogue, with keywords: “Star Wars: Interrupting Trump”.)
The truth is that the political cartoon genre, the idea of political satire that uses one image to cut right to the core of the matter—and forces us to see truths that we may feel but haven’t yet clearly articulated—can be very insightful.
A picture of Star Wars characters carries the caption:
How you see your candidate (picture of Jedi master Obi-wan Kenobi)
How you see their candidate (picture of Darth Vader)
What they’re both really like (picture of Jar Jar Binks)
The kernel of truth in this simple meme is sobering.
With memes, such satire reaches more of the younger generations than the older. But they can teach us all. And over time, I suspect they’ll become more influential.
An important question right now: How will memes and vines impact future campaigns? And what will they evolve into?
By 2020 they could significantly increase in influence. In fact, since Kanye West has already announced his 2020 candidacy for the White House, maybe we’ll see the full election on a real-time streaming reality show app. Keeping Up With the Candidates. Something like this—or worse—is coming, no doubt.