Today’s post is about a GIF in which Hillary Clinton looks around at balloons dropping from the ceiling, and dramatically mouths “WOW” during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It’s a quick clip that went viral in no time.
I knew I wanted to talk about this meme, but I wasn’t sure what angle to approach the post from. I spent way too much time trying to figure out why the GIF was so funny. Do we laugh because of a latent sexism in our country? Maybe it’s funny because it continues a meme theme of the Clintons being inhuman aliens? Or maybe we giggle because of the possibility of uses in conversation? With technology allowing for GIF responses everywhere, and a millennial’s love of sarcasm, is that why it’s funny?
I’m telling you, I went deep.
The answer is much simpler than any of those questions, though those are important things to consider. The answer is that Clinton’s reaction and face are funny because they’re unusual and unexpected. The clip is funny because it is funny. No extra explanation needed.
This is one of the big differences between political cartoons and the political memes that we’ve seen in the recent presidential elections. Political cartoons are created with intention by artists who are trying to convey particular meanings and satirical points. Political memes are created sometimes by accident, and are just meant to people laugh at absurdity. Political memes don’t need meaning.
That doesn’t mean that memes lack cultural value that can be analyzed. Plenty of factors play into virality of a meme, and that has immense research value. For example, maybe this GIF went viral in part because of sarcastic humor of our generation. We can still explore those concepts and themes even if they weren’t created to contain layers of meaning. (Or any at all!)
Memes are valuable, but it is important to understand their inherent difference from political cartoons. This is also why memes haven’t completely supplanted cartoons. Cartoons still have their place in the political culture, memes have just joined the conversation.
Our political culture is changing, but we still have some consistencies.
Feature image by Flickr user Gage Skidmore. License information at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.