So… where was I? Yikes, it’s a good way to start an article, isn’t it? It explains the concept without giving any definition, and probably the next time that you see an image like this you won’t put so much effort in identifying it with a “meme”. This is because the best way to store some stuff and put it in someone’s head is to pack it in a small content and present it in a funny way. The power of memes lies in this fact: they can contain lots of information in such a narrow space, and if repeated and re-elaborated thousands of times they can spread with a tremendous velocity. I’m not surprised if nowadays somebody would use it to teach mathematics (1) or study, let’s say, an historical event, in order to better remember dates, names and places, as I did when I studied the two World Wars at high school watching videos of Tom and Jerry explaining them (2). And I’m not even surprised if today somebody would use them for political purposes, like this guy here staring at the eclipse without wearing any sunglasses:
As you may know, his name is Donald Trump and he is currently the President of the most powerful country in the world. But what if I tell you that memes helped him in winning the 2016 Presidential Elections? Well, it looks like an absurd theory, but if we consider that even during the electoral campaign he used to retweet memes, especially from his young supporters, the thing starts to make sense. In a country where 2/3 of the citizens (3) get their information about politics through social media, a savvy use of it is fundamental in order to catch their attention, especially if we consider that in the last presidential elections 1/3 of the electorate was composed of young people voting for the first time (4). Twitter, moreover, is the most suitable one for political discussions, and without any doubt Trump, with his uncensored, unconcerned and unfettered language revolutionized the way of using it.
In the meme here above, tweeted by Mr. Donald in 2015 when he was already the official candidate for the Republican Party, you can see him looking like “Pepe the Frog”, a character from a comic series which became popular on sites like 4chan or Reddit and which has often been associated with the far-right movement. Without any doubt it was a clear strategy, considering that images like this were already circulating on the Internet and were popularizing him. Furthermore, in the tweet he also linked a video, mentioning one of the first slogans used by his fans: “Can’t Stump the Trump”, which is actually a meme too, having all the required characteristics: short, catchy, and rhyming (6). In the meanwhile, a guy called Steve Bannon became the new former director of technology for Trump’s campaign, and, according to politico.com, in the Trump Tower a team of Internet experts started to monitor the social media trends of the moment, keeping in touch with “the most active users to seed new trends”, as revealed by two former campaign officials. They also started to follow a subreddit called “r_/The Donald” (which nowadays counts more than 650.000 subscribers), in order to catch the contents most in vogue (7).
But Mr. Donald was not the only meme-lover in that period. Indeed, even his opponents used to propagandize themselves through memes. A clear example is Hillary Clinton’s Mannequin Challenge on the Election Day, with the Democratic candidate inviting people to vote through a short slogan connected to the video. The message received about 3.5 millions of views, more than 50.000 retweets and 90.000 likes, which is an amazing result, not considering the fact that this video was also shown on newscasts all over the world and published on YouTube by several channels, reaching an incredible popularity (8).
As you can easily understand, the political scene literally became a “meme warfare” (or “Great Meme War”, as somebody used to call it), in which these apparently innocuous contents played a fundamental role in orientating the electorate’s thought. On one side “Crooked Hillary”, on the other “Racist Donald”, the “first female candidate” against the “first showman”. Tweet after tweet, slogan after slogan, the whole country found itself involved. But there also was somebody which didn’t like that much the dispute and tweeted memes like these ones:
But why did Donald Trump win? Did he maybe have better memes than her colleague Hillary Clinton? Of course not, memes did not decide the outcome of the elections, but certainly changed the tone and the way of communicating ideas. Donald Trump is a living meme in America since the ‘80s, when he already appeared in TV shows, cartoons and movies: he perfectly fits the capitalist spirit, and embodies the aspiration of most American people. Moreover, his strong approach and his bizarre way of communicating things, which sometimes puts him in an awkward position, boomed up his popularity: even when the newspapers tried to destroy him, laughing at his statements, they only contributed to the giant discussion which was already going on. Just to give you a proof, let’s consider the time spent by the media talking about him in terms of money: according to mediaquant.net, Trump earned around $5 billion without doing basically anything, just making the other talk, with more than 400 minutes of coverage (only considering the period until February 26th, 2016): more than the double of his opponent Hillary Clinton.
And what about his slogans? “Make America Great Again” is no doubt the most famous one so far in the 21st century, while Clinton’s “Love trumps hate” is only remembered as a weak wordplay aimed at tearing him down: by the way it contains Trump’s surname (to “trump” is a synonym of “defeating”), and it probably obtained the opposite effect?
All these things contributed to his final victory on the 8th November 2016: a triumph followed by protests, riots, and critics towards the unfair electoral system. Most of the people all around world were simply left in disbelief (the same happened to me, to be honest). Everybody was wondering how could a man without any political experience or skill have become the leader of the most powerful country in the world. And people still look at him as a foolish man, laughing at his statements like he is constantly telling jokes… I know, most of the times he says things that leave the others astonished, but for sure, if you cover that position and you’re the most influential person on this planet, you cannot be “just a stupid” (otherwise you would not tweet random words like “covfef… ok, he did it.)
By the way, and we have to state it, he found a simple and unequivocal way to communicate his ideas, following a precise direction in order to immediately catch the attention of both his opponents and the American citizens who voted for him, even despite some of his shocking affirmations that defining them “scandalous” is an understatement. And he still uses these techniques, as we can see from a recent tweet of few days ago, with which he announced new sanctions against Iran, quoting the well-known “Winter is coming” slogan from the fantasy series “Game of Thrones”, and for which he has also been criticized:
Well, at the end of this amazing journey in which we analyzed from a different perspective the last Presidential Elections in America, we can only assert one thing: now he works in the Oval Office, where he runs his errands, calls his fellows leaders from other countries and writes long letters to Kim Jong Un, and whether you like him or not, I’m sorry, but you have to deal with it.
‘Cause after all everybody knows it: “THE END JUSTIFIES…. THE MEMES”.