Binders full of women, Big Bird, and bayonets: Memes and Online Political Discourse

guest post by Sophia Madana

During the first presidential debate of election 2012 my Facebook newsfeed blew up with political status updates; some quotes from the debate paired with cheering on their preferred candidate, some stating frustrations about the opposing candidate, and a whole lot of Big Bird comments.

But the Big Bird debacle was just a small piece of what was to come in social media during election season. It’s safe to say we’ve hit the peak of our “political meme culture” with the Binders Full of Women phenomenon.

The first comments and memes hit social media channels even before the debate was over. All of a sudden it was a race to make the best meme and find out which one could spread the fastest.

While the phenomenon is mostly about having a good chuckle, what do these spread-like-wildfire memes mean for the presidential candidates? Will they affect the election outcome?

My answer: Heck yes.

When a topic such as “Binders Full of Women” starts trending, social media users usually want to know why. You’ll find numerous tweets similar to this one all up in the Twittersphere:

Usually, their next step is to Google the phrase because they don’t want to miss out on America’s big inside joke of the day, and will see all the social-media-user-created memes, which will probably lead them to do more research and find out where this is stemming from. If they weren’t tuning into the debate on some level already, they’re paying attention now.

Memes have successfully caught the interest of apathetic citizens and made them care enough to at least read (or maybe skim) news about politics. Though this isn’t the ideal way to educate people on the presidential candidates, it still raises awareness and gets them to look into what’s happening in our country. But there are downfalls.

Meme generators are generally of a younger age demographic who tend to lean left in politics. When memes gain traction, they mostly attack the Republican Party, which will lead undecided/apathetic voters more toward liberal viewpoints, leaving them somewhat biased. While the “Binders Full of Women” meme is working generously in President Obama’s favor, it is creating quite the abysmal hole for Romney to climb out of, and if he can’t do this successfully, it could cost him an upgrade to the White House. All because some random person decided to make this:

However, with that being said, social media has turned the saying “15 minutes of fame” into “15 milliseconds of fame.” Our attention spans have shortened immensely due to how quickly information can be posted on these channels. We saw an example of this in this election just with Big Bird taking the back burner as Binders Full of Women stole the spotlight.

Now that the final debate has come and gone, the Binders Full of Women meme will soon be long forgotten, and it is likely that new ones may emerge; perhaps including horses and bayonets (which was trending in real time) or maybe something involving the Battleship game, a reference to Obama stating that spending military dollars on more ships for the U.S. Navy, as Romney suggested, is not necessary.

Whether we think they are funny or annoying, memes are playing a rather large role in this election. They’ve proven, once again, the power of social media and how it can change and influence the course of political campaigns, as well as our nation’s history.

Comments (2)

this is so great. i love your thoughts !

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