Political Memes: Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash

Curator's Note

From “Big Bird” to “binders full of women” political memes have injected themselves into the spectacle of political discourse and political campaigns. This is particularly the case in the 2016 Presidential campaign and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Memes were once the stuff of /b/ boards and insider Internet culture and humor. However, memes currently occupy an emergent space within political communication, participation, and ultimately political deliberation.

Memes (as a media form) can keep pace with the speed and circulation of popular culture and contemporary social networking practices. The Bernie Sanders campaign has strategically capitalized on social media in 2016, creating its own “social media machine” (Grothaus, 2016). Beyond the effective #FeeltheBern hashtag and the myriad other official organizing tools and messages, average citizens have participated in the crafting of Bernie Sanders as a candidate, and the surge of Sanders support online. One site of creative participation is the Facebook group page Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash (BSDMS). As of May 2016, the group has 400,000+ members, a substantive jump from just 5,000 members in January of 2016. Part of the rapid growth came in conjunction with Tumblr and reddit/Imgur posts around the “Bernie or Hillary?” meme, which depicted (mostly) fictitious contrasts between the candidates on issues ranging from “Sleeping” and “Star Wars” to “Radiohead” and “Carly Rae Jepson.” Sanders is depicted as “dank” (deriving from “stoner” or “hippie” slang for potent or high-quality), with a deep understanding of issues and cultural nuance, whereas Hillary is portrayed as trying too hard and as unrelatable. Political memes can boil down complex arguments, for better or worse, into easily digested memetic bites. This can make political memes extremely articulate and very poignant as they cut through the clutter of social media and the messiness of political campaigns.

This is not to say that memes cannot be extremely problematic forms of political engagement that squelch larger debates and reinforce stereotypes. Certainly ardent Sanders supporters and Bernie Bros have been accused of misogyny and sexism through their memetic practices during the campaign (including the above Bernie or Hillary? meme). The memetic form, however, speaks in a language that many, especially the constructed category of “millennials,” have grown up with on social media. Memes are an important part of the “dank” articulation of Bernie Sanders as a candidate.

Comments

Perin Gurel's picture

Are all memes created equally cool?

Hi Ben,

Thank you for this informative post! I have two comments/questions. 1) While browsing the Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash (BSDMS), I noticed a lot of women would make Bernie or Hillary? memes on make-up practices and products, like comparing fancy Sephora eyeshadow to drugstore eyeshadow or badly done winged eyes to impeccable ones. Have you seen these as well? I wasn’t personally able to connect with these since my own make-up experience is prosaic, but I am wondering whether these might be a post-feminist reclamation of the “sexist” meme cycle. 2) Again on BSDMS, I saw a Bernie or Hillary? meme comparing “Memes.” The Bernie box had a green creature I didn’t recognize (obviously I am not cool enough) and the Hillary box had what one might call “a mom meme” with a Minion, saying “Exercise? I thought you meant extra fries.” This makes me wonder whether all memes are “millennial” and dank, or whether these loose millennial communities have begun marking gendered and agist categories within the broader meme category after the meme concept went mainstream. Thoughts?

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