Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Political Humor Continued: Battle Of The Memes

The Republican party has identified a strategic 'humor-gap' when it comes to reaching young voters. Apparently Obama's messaging has been cooler and hipper and Republican messaging has not been getting through to the under-30 crowd. It's gotten so bad that some people are trying to figure out how to make abortion funny.

In our continuing look at left-vs-right humor we'll look at the memes.

A 'Meme' in the sense that I mean it here is a picture with some words over it (usually in the IMPACT font) which is (a) meant to be funny, insightful, enraging, etc. and (b) most of all meant to be shared (via Facebook, etc.). Memes, Mom and Dad, are a major way that the generation of unwanted people on your lawn get their messages. They 'like' them on the Facebooks so that their friends see them or share them--or tweet them--or post them to Tumblr or all kinds of other things.

They are a major way of communicating ideas today--even if they can only communicate very simple ones. The Omnivore is going to look at various political memes for comparison to see who is 'meeming what' and how (and who's doing it better).

A Key Point: Brand
When I use the word 'Brand' in this sense I don't mean like a store-brand--I mean a set of emotions or concepts associated with an item. Like BMW means 'high class.' What people choose to share will be very much determined by what concepts or 'words' they want associated with them. In other words, I will show you stuff that I feel represents me--or fits 'my brand.' In order for Republican messages to go viral they have to tap into brands that young people are trying to project. Here's the list of words from the College Republicans survey:
Not Seen: SEXAY
Here are the bad ones:
Not Seen: PWND
So when we look at these memes here are a few things to look at:
  1. Is it smart? This is the biggest one and, frankly, it's a hard sell. But the meme better not be stupid.
  2. How negative, mean, or uncaring is it?
  3. Does it project caring?
As noted, Republicans have a disadvantage in the Uncaring / Close-Minded department and are going to have a tough time doing CPR on 'Compassionate Conservative.' On the other hand, they can go to town on Hardworking or Responsible. So it's not all bad.

The Memes

For this test I will use Google Images and will use search-terms like "Liberal Memes" or "Conservative Memes." Where Google Images classifies them (Pro, Anti, and other terms) I will try to match them up from either side and I will try to use memes that show up in roughly the same positions for each search.

Let's go!

Pro Conservative vs. Pro Liberal
The search string is "Liberal Memes" or "Conservative Memes" and I choose from the Pro category for each one.

First Choice
These were top choices from the Google "Pro" section for each ideology. Note that Google's filter isn't so great and the "top choices" often contained some memes from the other side.
Is He White--Or Hispanic--Or--WAIT, I'M ALL CONFUSED NOW
Too Small To Read. STICK TO IMPACT Guys
Analysis: For the first one to appear, these are both, in my opinion, losers. Certainly the Most Interesting Man In The World meme (the conservative one) is better--but as Rick Santorum noted--approaching the 2012 presidential campaign as though Romney's plan for victory was to win all the small businessmen was, in retrospect, pretty short sighted. On the other hand, the wall of text with Obama looking like someone tapped him on the shoulder and then ducked the other way invites an answer to the bottom question: "I was unemployed the last three years, you moron."

Branding: I think The Most Interesting Man In The World projects a brand of intelligence (whether or not you agree with the text). I think the Obama meme projects a certain hardworking vibe--but literally calls the reader lazy.

Winner: Conservative Meme. Barely.

My Choice Of Memes
Here I pick from the first page for Liberal / Conservative Memes. My attempt is to pick the "best one" that was interesting or classy (good luck) or insightful--or--most of all--funny.
Are We Supposed To Believe Beardo Is A Conservative?
Analysis: The pickings--they were slim. Firstly there are very, very few pro-liberal memes. Even in the "pro" category, there were many anti-memes. The Conservative ones were, generally, a bit better but not by much. I picked these two because, while wordy, both of them make what I consider to be iconic arguments for their sides (and, in the liberal one, you better realize that when he says 'liberals' he often can't mean Democrats who were, for example, decidedly pro-segregation in the South). The arguments (and this is my analysis of seeing lots and lots of both sides online) are:
  1. Liberals are brainless and can't form a coherent argument.
  2. Republicans are racist (and sexist! And against poor people--for the trifecta)!
Here's the clincher: if you think one of these is true and not the other you're likely wrong about which one!

Branding: Both of these clock in at mean: If I am posting them, I am poking any reader on the other side. If I do not wish to be thought of as 'mean' I might not want to propagate them.

Winner: Tie.

NOTE: I am (with reservations) linking to a 'Pro-Republican' Meme that I thought about putting here. It shows, as one of its images, a tiny aborted fetus. I am remarking on it here because it is in the format of a general meme that is supposed to be funny, insightful, and slightly self depreciating

I found the image of the fetus to be revolting and I'm sure that was the intent--however, one thing it was not was funny. Now: it's true--there's nothing funny about abortion--but as a meme this sort of thing is hugely counter-productive. When it gets shoved in your face it is less likely to change your mind about abortion than to make you resent whoever posted it.

Romney vs. Obama
The meme-war wasn't fought over basic ideologies in 2012--it was fought between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Here's some memes from each.
You Didn't Kill Him Yourself. Someone Else Did That
That's It. That's The Only One.
Analysis: Here we see the real problem. There are numerous anti-Obama memes--but type in "pro Romney meme" go to images and ... woah. That's right: there's nada (but that). I think the problem with Anti-Obama memes is that people are less likely to share anti-X stuff if they don't want drama. If you are sharing pro-X at least you have a (mild) defensive positive cloak of happiness.

Also: both memes are examples of saying something good about you or your side (that Obama killed Bin Laden, that Romney voters are hard workers) and implying something negative about the other (that they are crazy Birthers or that they are wasting time on the Internet all day). In this case, though, it's what is said that's telling. The Romney meme is calling non-Romney voters lazy, yes--but also unemployed

If you didn't care about Obama's birth certificate the pointedness of the Obama meme isn't directed at you. In light of the 47% comments by Romney, this meme may be 'part of the problem.'

This isn't to say the anti-Obama memes were bad, exactly:
But Not Exactly Good Either ...
But compared to the vast amount of anti-Romney stuff ...

I think they were fairly lack-luster.

Branding: I'm going to say "competent" and "strong" for Obama--and "hardworking" for Romney. Both are a little mean--but the Obama one only targets Birthers while the Romney one targets anyone who makes any other meme. Similarly, the anti-Obama meme directly above makes fun of the country while the anti-Romney memes make fun of the rich. The 'mean' quotient isn't as high.

The Obama-killed-Bin Laden meme is also pretty much net-positive: mocking Birthers is (somewhat) negative but we were mostly all happy to see Bin Laden killed. If you post that to Facebook stream you can be 'safely patriotic.' If you post the Romney one you may be seen as negative.

Winner: Obama. By a mile. I think that part of what went wrong was that Romney didn't inspire many conservatives but, even moreso, I think the younger people who are creating memes for Obama simply didn't exist in the numbers for Romney. It's also true that Romney had a string of gaffes and was painted as a wealthy plutocrat with no concern for the poor--an image he was unable to shake--against Obama's generally cooler demeanor.

I conclude from this 'exhaustive' survey that the issue is not specifically around the different philosophies but rather around (a) the specific candidates in play (Romney was, for whatever reason, far, far less well equipped in the meme-category than Obama) and (b) some basic (and huge) issues in execution. The existence of the abortion meme, appearing in the top-six images (i.e. "on the front page") speaks to a lethal misunderstanding about messaging. 

Specifically it assumes that the messenger (the person who posts that in your face) is distinct from the message--that abortion kills babies. While we can argue that this should not be true it would take an incredibly naive person to conclude that it is not true. As the people who posted the picture (a fairly run-of-the-mill professional looking conservative content site) cannot be said to be incredibly naive, I think something else is going on. 

I'm not entirely sure what--but I will note that with almost no pro-Romney memes and a bazillion anti-Obama memes--there is a strain of negativity that has infected Republican messaging in recent times (remember: Reagan, in that killer first debate, came out with a knock-out humor line against Carter). Exactly how this works--or what's going on specifically--isn't clear to me--but to my read some of the conservative comics were more mean-spirited and angry than the liberal ones (and, across the board, had fewer instances of character-humor and more pointed political humor).

I think there's a messaging problem that goes beyond simple word-smithing and choosing a charismatic candidate. I think that the core anger (and, let's be clear: there's plenty of liberal anger and outrage too) is hindering conservative messaging in a way that it simply isn't with liberal messaging.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the share! Nothing better then some goodl ole funny political humor to get the day started off right. That first meme has me dying right now!