The Meme Election and the Tumblr Campaign
The president was not impressed.
Or, more accurately, the president was Not Impressed. When, earlier this month, the newly re-elected commander-in-chief met the gymnasts of the U.S. Olympic team, he did what any president would do: He took a photo op, posing with the Fierce Five in the Oval Office. But he also did something that not every president would do: He took a meme op. The president stood next to McKayla Maroney, she of #notimpressed fame, and the pair reenacted her signature scowl.
The photo that resulted -- a months-old meme, ossified in Internet time, made fresh by the fact that it was being acted out by a president -- was promptly posted to the Obama campaign's Tumblr,barackobama.tumblr.com, where it joined a series of fellow memes -- and animated GIFs, and videos, and snappy commentary, and earnest commentary, and other such Items of Internet. The image of a meme-faced Commander-in-Chief, cheeky and epic at the same time, was -- or, at least, seemed -- tailor-made for social media. And for, in particular, Tumblr, a medium that manages to mix irony and sincerity in pretty much equal measure.
Campaign 2012 has been dubbed, fairly or not, the "Meme Election." And it was, all in all, the most documented, and probably the most participated-in, campaign in living
memery memory. Much of its pageantry was live-GIFed. Obama's victory in it was met, unsurprisingly, by image round-ups with names like "Yes, We GIFed." And GIF we did. We also hashtagged and parody-accounted and meme-made and fixtedthatforyoued and bindered and Big Birdedand Eastwooded our way through many, many months of pervasive politicking -- to the extent that a section of Know Your Meme has been dedicated to covering, simply, the "2012 United States Presidential Election." Though it's easy to overattribute the effect that all this Internet-y activity had on the election's outcome itself -- memes are small; the country is large -- it's also pretty obvious that memes and their counterparts, both despite and because of their smallness, represent a significant shift in participatory politics. Which is to say, in politics.