KYM Review: Election Memes Of 2016
Editor’s Note: This article is part of Know Your Meme’s annual review series looking back at some of the most memorable and popular memes, events and people that defined Internet culture in 2016 as we know it.
his year's race to the White House has undoubtedly been the most scandalous and exhausting presidential election in online history. Memes have never played such a prominent role in shaping public opinions as they do today, nor were they as polarizing and divisive in previous election cycles.
The 2016 election season marked the beginning of a new chapter in political campaigns on social media, with the liberal and conservative spheres of influence reaching a state of equilibrium for the first time (owing much to the rise of the alt-right) and internet-savvy partisans from both sides of the aisle taking their battles online in full-frontal offensives, from the right's Cult of Kek armed with ancient Egyptian "meme magic", to the left's relentless mockeries of Trump's ever-so-frequent gaffes. On Facebook and Twitter, self-righteous sanctimony and mean-spirited trolling dominated our feeds, leading to vitriolic flamewars, conspicuous social signalling and unfriending declarations.
As we all breathe a sigh of relief that it is finally coming to a close, let's take a look at some of the biggest memes surrounding both presidential candidates this election cycle, and see how they played out in the end.
As a human meme himself, Trump undoubtedly delivered far more than his fair share of internet memes this election. Much of Trump's rise online has been attributed to conservative communities on Reddit and 4chan, where worshippers of Kek, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos, used "meme magic" to promote the Republican presidential candidate through manipulation of the media and online trolling. As one of the most polarizing figures ever witnessed in the history of politics, supporters have praised Trump as a Washington outsider capable of challenging corrupt establishment politicians, while critics have denounced him as a xenophobic demagogue who represents an existential threat to humanity.
Since Trump initially announced his candidacy back in June 2015, one of his most memorable, and controversial, campaign promises was to construct a giant wall separating the United States from Mexico that he would somehow persuade the Central American country to pay for. The wall subsequently became signature issue for Trump, with supporters praising it as a way to curb illegal immigration, while critics mocked it as an absurd, xenophobic pipe dream. Eventually, Trump amended his plans for the wall, revealing that it would be subsidized by American taxpayers with Mexico reimbursing America for the costs of construction.
Make America Great Again
Trump's longest-running campaign slogan has also been the most frequently parodied and mocked. Abbreviated as "MAGA" by supporters, the nostalgic call to action was originally used by Reagan during his 1980 campaign, before being adopted by Trump during the summer of 2015. Hats embroidered with the slogan became an iconic symbol of the Trump campaign, leading to numerous parody variations.
A Small Loan of a Million Dollars
One of Trump's most enduring gaffes that followed him throughout the primary and general election regarded a confession that he was able to jump start his real estate business with "a small loan of a million dollars" provided by his father. The statement was viewed by many as being out of touch with working class people, to whom that amount of money was anything but small. After YouTuber Pyrocynical discussed the gaffe in a video on YouTube, the phrase became a full-blown meme on the video-sharing site, spawning numerous remix and parody videos.
Trump's candidacy also brought with it an unprecedented backlash from his own party, most notably arising in the form of #NeverTrump, a movement led by conservatives determined to prevent him from ever becoming president. In one of the election's most hilarious moments, Republican strategist and #NeverTrump promoter Rick Wilson described Trump's alt-right supporters as "childless single men who masturbate to anime," giving rise a slew of Trump-themed anime memes.
The Trump Tapes
By far the biggest bombshell of the entire election was a 2005 hot microphone recording of Trump discussing his interactions with women while sharing a bus ride with former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. In the recording, Trump brags that women will allow him to do anything due to his fame, including grabbing them "by the pussy." After the audio was publicized by The Washington Post in early October, Trump was widely condemned for the comments as if they were an admission of sexual assault. In the fallout of the scandal, Billy Bush was terminated from NBC with a $10 million severance package, which led to a failed online campaign to shame him into donating the money to women's charities. Meanwhile, photoshops and image macros mocking Trump's vulgar language spread far and wide across the web.
During the primary election, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders seemed to dominate the left-wing memeosphere. After Clinton secured the party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July, it took some time for many former Sanders supporters to hop on board with their new candidate. Supporters of Clinton have hailed her as one of the most qualified candidates in history, and have praised her for being the first woman nominated by a major party. Meanwhile, critics have accused her of being an untrustworthy career politician, who is beholden to various special interest groups.
I'm With Her
The Clinton's campaign official slogan, which is often echoed by supporters indicating their allegiance to the Democratic presidential candidate, was kickstarted on the web in social media posts by various celebrities, including pop star Katy Perry, actress Lena Dunham and comedian Amy Schumer. Following several of Clinton's primary election victories in June, former Bernie Sanders supporters launched the hashtag "#GirlIGuessImWithHer" to indicate their reluctant support of Clinton in the upcoming general election against Trump. Following Clinton campaign's description of Pepe the Frog as a symbol of "white supremacy," the puppet Kermit the Frog was adopted by some Clinton supporters as a symbol of anti-bigotry along with the hashtag "#ImWithKer."
During a televised portion of Clinton's victory speech following the Iowa caucuses in the Democratic primary, Drake University student Peter Clinksales could be seen in the background wearing pro-Clinton stickers all over his face while making a variety of absurd facial expressions. The hashtag #stickerboy immediately became a trending topic on Twitter, with many praising Clinksales for his sense of humor and enthusiasm. Not to be outdone, a Bernie Sanders supporter was subsequently photographed with his entire face covered in Sanders campaign stickers.
Basket of Deplorables
What arguably became Clinton's biggest gaffe of the election was her infamous ""basket of deplorables" remark, in which she described half of Trump's supporters as bigots. The phrase was subsequently embraced by many on the alt-right, who created a slew of photoshops mocking the gaffe and featuring Pepe the Frog. Then, Donald Trump Jr. reblogged a photoshopped movie poster of the 2010 action film The Expendables, featuring various prominent conservatives standing next to Pepe with the title “The Deplorables." What followed was an absurd round of media hysterics in which Pepe was labeled a symbol of "white nationalism," forever branding the cartoon character as a sign of hate. While some have tried to repair Pepe's reputation with the #SavePepe campaign, the green frog's ultimate fate currently remains unknown.
Hillary for Prison
Since 2013, Clinton was unable to escape a scandal involving her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, which many opponents claim posed a criminal threat to national security. The scandal took the Clinton campaign on a roller coaster ride throughout the entire election, popularizing the slogan "Hillary for Prison" among her detractors. In late October, FBI director James Comey stunned the entire internet by issuing a letter to Congress informing them of the discovery of additional emails that may be related to the Clinton investigation, which were later determined to be messages found on Anthony Weiner's computer. The hashtag "#HillaryForPrision" subsequently began trending on Twitter, which was intentionally misspelled due to speculation that the social networking site was suppressing anti-Clinton hashtags. In the end, Comey announced that the newly discovered emails had not changed their conclusion that Clinton would not face charges, much to the chagrin of Trump supporters.
Along with the email scandal, another thorn in Clinton's side this entire election took the form of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who continuously leaked emails taken from the accounts of those close to the Clinton campaign. With less than a week left in the election, an additional collection of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked account were published, which contained a message from his brother Tony inviting him to a "Spirit Cooking" dinner with performance artist Marina Abramović. Internet sleuths subsequently discovered a video of Abramović's "Spirit Cooking" art project from 1996, in which she paints a recipe on the wall in pig's blood containing ingredients like semen and breast milk. Conspiracy theorists had a field day accusing the Clinton campaign using black magic and participating in occult rituals. In an interview with ArtNews, Abramović revealed that John Podesta did not attend the event and that the dinner had a "normal menu."