Category Archives: Memes

#Blackout: Justice for Trayvon and Profile Picture Campaigns

images-supporting-trayvon-martin

As anyone paying attention to the news for the past few weeks knows, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the high-profile Florida trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin has galvanized one of the largest protest movements in recent American history. Of course, in addition to marching in the streets, protestors have taken to social media in droves to express their outrage at the verdict and their dissatisfaction with racial profiling, gun laws, and a host of related issues. In the immediate aftermath of the verdict announcement on July 13th, social media sites were flooded with impassioned personal reactions, links to petitions, and numerous agit-prop graphics that went viral in a matter of minutes. Over two weeks later, much of the initial fervor has died down, yet one class of social media responses largely remains: the profile pictures.

Following the lead of the red equal sign for gay marriage and other similar recent campaigns, many supporters of Trayvon Martin have transformed the visual representations of their online identities into soapboxes to advance their cause. Perhaps the most popular strategy has been to use a stark black square, an idea that was promoted online with the hashtag #blackout and has since received the support of the Martin family. There have also been profile picture memes incorporating Trayvon’s portrait, a silhouette of the symbolic hoodie he wore the night of his death, and other graphics associated with this burgeoning movement.

As an observer of social media and politics, I’m struck by how these campaigns confirm the popularity of the profile picture as a primary space for political expression and engagement in the online world. Yet what I find most interesting about this latest round of politically-charged profile pictures is their sheer endurance in the rapid, blink-and-you-missed-it maelstrom of social media discourse. While links and image shares come and go very quickly, the profile picture enjoys a relatively stable digital presence, reappearing each time a person posts new content. Every time I log into Facebook and see the ominous black squares and hoodies in my news feed, I am reminded of the passion of this movement and the commitment of its supporters to anti-racism and social change.

The profile picture thus seems to have a weight that a lot of other social media strategies are lacking – in a way, its the strongest kind of link or association a person can make in the digital environment. To throw one’s entire online identity behind a cause, giving it an overarching presence in each and every activity they perform, provides politically-engaged social media users with a powerful symbolic tool unlike any other. Like the red equal sign campaign before it, the Trayvon profile pictures are blazing a trail for long-term social media activism that I imagine will be utilized by many more movements to come.

The Red Equal Sign Meme for Marriage Equality: A Look Back

red equal sign liberty justice

With the Supreme Court decisions striking down DOMA and Prop 8 last week, the red equal sign meme supporting marriage equality has been taking a victory lap on Facebook. As I wrote in an earlier post, this campaign is a significant moment in the development of viral politics, particularly for its use of profile picture-changing as a way of displaying a collective identity around an issue. Now that the dust has settled on this historic campaign coinciding with a major triumph for gay rights, it’s time to look back at some of the most interesting coverage that has appeared online in the past few months.

Anatasia Khoo, the head of marketing for Human Rights Campaign (HRC), gives an inside look at the creation of the red equal sign meme in pieces for Huffington Post and Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the former article, Khoo recounts an intriguing anecdote about the impact of the campaign:

“For many, this act marked the first time they had come out as a straight ally, or in some cases, the first time they had come out as a member of the LGBT community. Since then, we’ve heard so many stories, but one really sticks out for me. One day, we got a message from a gay soldier who had come out to his mother and unfortunately, it wasn’t the positive experience he was hoping for. It wasn’t until he saw that his mother had also changed her profile picture to the HRC logo that he felt accepted by her. It’s incredibly powerful to know that something so simple could provide such a strong feeling of support.”

In the latter article, Khoo offers a key lesson for organizations who wish to create a similarly viral social media campaign:

“We documented close to 100 different variations on the logo, and we made an important decision: We were going to not only embrace the memes, but also promote them. Politicians, celebrities, and corporate America embraced the logo. Bonobos, Bud Light, Martha Stewart, and Beyoncé all picked up the red logo—it became synonymous with equality… Most organizations are very protective about their brands, but for this campaign, HRC put our logo out into the universe without any organizational language, making it easy for individuals to embrace. It was a bold move for the organization… We certainly could have taken a much different approach to try and control the campaign or to brand it more tightly, but success relied on allowing people to make our logo their own and feel like they were part of something bigger.”

In a blog post for Scientific American, social psychology scholar Melanie Tannenbaum outlines a compelling theory for how the red equal sign meme may work as effective political persuasion. Basically, it all comes down to modeling behavioral norms (i.e. setting ‘descriptive norms’), which parallels my own argument in “Visual Identities, Visual Rhetoric” regarding the importance of visually articulating ‘the people’ as a way of changing perceptions about social reality:

“People look at an issue like marriage equality, and the first inclination is to set prescriptive norms. We should do something, the justices should rule a certain way, you should support a given cause. But based on everything that we know about our brains and their bafflingly strong desires to fit in with the crowd, the best way to convince people that they should care about an issue and get involved in its advocacy isn’t to tell people what they should do — it’s to tell them what other people actually do. And you know what will accomplish that? That’s right. Everyone on Facebook making their opinions on the issue immediately, graphically, demonstrably obvious. That is literally all that it takes to create a descriptive norm: Publicly acknowledging your belief along with the thousands of other people who are also publicly acknowledging theirs.”

Finally, in a thought-provoking piece for the New Yorker Online, Matt Buchanan compares the red equal sign campaign with Malcolm Gladwell’s famous castigation of “Facebook activism” as so-called slacktivism in the same magazine:

“While the HRC’s profile-picture activism relies on weak ties, like those between celebrities and their followers, it’s designed to exploit the stronger personal connections that lurk among the web of weak ties in a Facebook profile. That is, you are true friends with at least a few people that you are ‘friends’ with on Facebook… The odds that the HRC’s campaign, as wildly successful as it has been, will directly influence the decision of the Justices are nil, which speaks quite loudly to the limits of online activism: twenty million avatars are not twenty million people in the street. However, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote, as people and politics change, so does the Court. And online activism has shown, most notably through its role in the defeat of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act last year, that maybe it can change people.”

In other words, Buchanan is saying that while online activism may not have a direct effect on public policy, it may have a long-term impact on public opinion that can eventually trickle up. It’s an intriguing thought, and one that seems to be supported by Tannenbaum’s point about the power of social media to shape social norms, one Facebook friend at a time.

The NSA PRISM Leak, Edward Snowden, and the Online Response

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The leak of PRISM, the NSA’s online surveillance program under the Obama administration, currently has internet users around the world in an uproar. Originally reported by the Guardian with the aid of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the PRISM leak along with several others have mobilized internet privacy activists like never before. In fact, in Snowden’s interview published in the Guardian, he drew attention to a movement gaining traction on Reddit called Restore the Fourth Amendment, which is now planning public protests across the U.S. on July 4th. There is also a “We the People” petition to pardon Snowden up on Whitehouse.gov that has received over 27,000 signatures, along with a predictably vast array of humorous critical responses that have popped up online. Early on, a hilariously biting image morphing Obama’s face with George W. Bush’s appeared on the homepage of the Huffington Pteam edward snowdenost and quickly went viral. As for the response on social media, CNN has a good roundup of the funniest tweets mocking Obama and the U.S. government regarding PRISM, while Buzzfeed has compiled some of the Snowden-related memes that have appeared in the last few days.

It is becoming clear that the PRISM leak and Snowden’s perceived heroics will reverberate online for a long time to come. This is because the story itself concerns the ability of internet users to communicate freely, in this case without fear of government intrusion. As the PIPA/SOPA movement from last year demonstrated, internet freedom-related issues are particularly amendable to viral politics, as legions of netizens are inspired to use the very technologies in question to mount a defense of their digital rights. Scholars and activists who are interested in the political uses of social media should pay close attention to the online anti-PRISM and pro-Snowden efforts in the weeks (and perhaps months) to come, since they may serve as a model for how political protest movements are orchestrated in the digital age more broadly.

That being said, I’m still unsure of what the long-term effects of this online response will be. While we may very well be at a tipping point in terms of internet privacy becoming a major global political issue, the fears about PRISM and the U.S. government’s online spying are still speculative in nature. The Obama administration continues to claim that these tools are only used to stop dangerous terrorists, while critics who worry about abuses of power are left making sometimes-hyperbolic ‘what if?’ comparisons to Orwell, Stalin, and the Stasi in order to drum up popular outrage. What we still don’t have yet is a ‘smoking gun’ that clearly shows a program like PRISM being used in an abusive manner, such as against the administration’s political opponents (i.e. along the lines of Watergate). If and when such a story emerges, we can expect movements like Reddit’s Restore the Fourth Amendment to really take off.

Protesting Zuckerberg on Facebook: The Campaign Against Fwd.Us

HeyZuck Facebook Group

In the past few weeks, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has raised the ire of liberal and environmentalist groups for a series of ads released by his new political organization Fwd.Us. The ads, which advocate for the Keystone XL pipeline and other conservative-friendly measures, have convinced MoveOn.org, Sierra Club, Daily Kos and others to pull their own advertising from Facebook’s site. Furthermore, activists have taken to Facebook itself to protest the actions of Zuckerberg and Fwd.Us. A new Facebook Group called HeyZuck was launched to put pressure on the man himself on his home court, and the page has received nearly 20,000 Likes so far. On the other hand, a group called CREDO Action had its anti-Zuckerberg ads blocked by Facebook, purportedly because it violated the site’s policy of using Zuckerberg’s likeness without permission.

This story hasn’t been getting much attention lately, but it’s quite fascinating from a social media and politics perspective. The very fact that a social media platform can be used to speak out against the CEO of that very same platform says something fairly profound about the democratizing potential of Web 2.0. In terms of media history, such a development is  unprecedented – imagine activists using the pages of one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers (or the airwaves of FOX News) to protest his political donations and lobbying efforts. While Facebook may be blocking certain ads (like CREDO’s) for political reasons, they have not clamped down on the use of the site for political speech that puts its founder in a negative light.

It is important to remember, however, that Facebook can potentially take down a page like HeyZuck if they wanted to – the fact that they haven’t probably says more about their brand reputation management than anything else. As Felix Stalder reminds us in his contribution to the NYU Press Social Media Reader, the so-called ‘back-end’ of the web is becoming increasingly important in questions of digital democracy. While we may like to think that participatory platforms like Facebook and Twitter are true free-for-alls where anyone can say and do whatever they wish (for political purposes or otherwise), these platforms are in fact controlled by for-profit corporations that operate with their own political agendas. When we use these platforms for political speech, we are taking the risk of leaving our voices at the mercy of a commercial entity that may or may not like what we have to say. While it is encouraging in a sense that the HeyZuck Facebook page has been thriving on the site, I have to wonder whether such an arrangement will continue to be viable as Silicon Valley entities become more and more significant political players (which the very formation of Zuckerberg’s Fwd.Us underlines). For now, we can remain tentatively optimistic  that these platforms allow more opportunities for dissent than was previously possible in earlier media regimes.

HeyZuck Dislike Facebook Dislike

Internet Blackouts: A Reliable Activist Strategy?

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Earlier this week, internet freedom activists and privacy advocates (led the group Anonymous) launched a blackout day to raise awareness about the CISPA bill in the US Congress. Officially named the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, this bill would have allowed commercial entities and the government to share private user data for the ostensible purpose of fighting international cyber attacks, while raising Big Brother-like concerns about the expansion of internet surveillance. While the current bill has apparently died in the Senate after passing in the House, the issue will likely continue to be debated contentiously in the coming years. Meanwhile, the news media has labeled the Stop CISPA blackout a flop, failing to catch on virally in the way that the Stop SOPA and PIPA blackout did so famously last year. Despite the fact that the bill has now been shelved, the efforts of Anonymous and other internet freedom activists to make CISPA the new SOPA seem to have fallen short.

This raises the question – are internet blackouts a reliable strategy for online activists moving forward, or was the success story of Stop SOPA and PIPA a fluke? An obvious issue here is the amount of websites who agree to participate – after all, who is really going to notice if only a relatively small fraction of the internet goes dark? While the SOPA blackout effort last year inspired over 50,000 websites to shut down completely, only 917 sites participated in the CISPA blackout earlier this week. In addition, the CISPA blackout didn’t get any heavy-hitters on board, whereas the SOPA/PIPA blackout famously included Wikipedia – one of the highest-trafficked websites in the world. While this may suggest that the issue of internet privacy simply does not get people as excited as restrictions on copyrighted material, there also appears to be a degree of blackout fatigue here as well.

One of the most remarkable things about the Stop SOPA/PIPA blackout was how unprecedented and surprising it was – people were absolutely shocked to see major sites like Wikipedia and Reddit go dark as an act of political protest. In other words, the impact of the blackout appeared to have a lot to do with its novelty value. Perhaps we should not expect websites to pull the plug every time a piece of controversial internet legislation appears before Congress, as such an act may quickly shift from shocking to merely annoying. Calling for such a protest on a regular basis (as Anonymous seems to be doing) may therefore not be a successful strategy in the long run. It will be interesting to see if they try it again, and what the level of participation and public impact will look like.

In the meantime, check out TechDirt‘s infographic about the runaway success of the SOPA/PIPA blackout. It’s a hard act to follow…

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Laughing Off the Threat: “The Internet” Takes on Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong Un Parody Buzzfeed 1

In the past few weeks, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has been dominating international headlines with his repeated saber-rattling, and the story has gone on to inspire a vast amount of internet parody memes. Buzzfeed recently published a big roundup of the funniest examples, while Know Your Meme has been tracking the “Hungry Kim Jong-un” set of memes for a few months now.

Kim Jong Un Parody Buzzfeed 2

The title of the Buzzfeed article, “The Internet is Really Not Afraid of Kim Jong-un,” is particularly interesting from my perspective. Here, “the Internet” is framed as a singular entity – one that is characterized by the derisive humor of Reddit-style meme culture. Obviously, this sort of activity only constitutes a small fraction of the online discourse that is currently taking place around the North Korea issue (some of it “high-minded,” some of it “low-minded,” and much of it in between), and yet somehow it comes to stand in for the whole. Of course, humorous memes are the bread and butter of a site like Buzzfeed, so it’s unsurprising that they would focus on this specific facet of what the internet has to offer. It just seems to me that this sort of reductionist talk about “the internet” is becoming more and more common as of late (as in the AV Club’s “Great Job, Internet!” feature), and it would be wise to take a step back and appreciate the breadth and variety of online political discourse. After all, “television” is not just late-night comedy monologues (the obvious precursor to these sorts of memes), so why is “the internet” so often painted as merely a factory of flippancy?

That being said, I would refrain from labeling the Kim Jong-un memes as “bad” discourse, political trivialization, etc. As scholars of mediated political satire like Jeffrey P. Jones have shown, this sort of seemingly-frivolous humor can enliven the public sphere and bring new entrants (particularly young people) into the realm of civic participation and citizenship. Indeed, it is rather heartening that the meme-spreaders of “the internet” are tackling the latest developments in international politics in addition to the usual repertoire of cute cats and celebrity gossip. While it might be merely laughing in the face of serious global tensions, these memes are getting people to think and talk about issues that they may have otherwise ignored. Great job, internet, indeed.

- Joel Penney

HRC Red Equal Sign Meme Takes Facebook: Visible Identities and the Digital Body

HRCs-Favorite-Logo-Remixes-Flickr-SS

This was a big week for viral politics, with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) red equal sign meme taking Facebook by storm. To show support for marriage equality during the Prop 8 and DOMA Supreme Court hearings, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Facebook users changed their profile picture to various incarnations of the red-and-pink, love-symbolizing equal sign logo. HRC has a good roundup of the media coverage, corporate endorsements, celebrity shout-outs, and countless meme spinoffs that have proliferated in the past few days around this campaign. For more on this story, check out Facebook’s own report on the statistics behind the phenomenon, as well as Time and Slate’s compilations of the best red equal sign variations.

While there is quite a lot to talk about regarding this watershed moment in viral politics, I’m particularly interested in how it highlights the key role of profile picture-changing in politically-oriented social media campaigns. More than just a simple post, link, or status update, the profile picture has a strong connection to the identities of users, visually representing them during each of their platform-based activities (chatting, posting, commenting, Liking, etc.). If a social networking profile is now a person’s ‘digital body,’ as danah boyd has argued, then the profile picture is the virtual clothing that he or she uses to communicate identity. When this badge of identity is used to show off one’s political beliefs, its function becomes very similar to wearing a political slogan T-shirt in public, a phenomenon that I have studied in a number of research projects. In my IJOC article “Visible Identities, Visual Rhetoric: The Self-Labeled Body as a Popular Platform for Political Persuasion, I explore how people use these T-shirts to transform their physical bodies into rhetorical texts for political purposes. Here’s an excerpt:

When discussing motivations for wearing their political T-shirts, many participants emphasized not only the persuasive messages printed on the T-shirts themselves, but also the message-making potential of their bodies as they were labeled by these items. In these scenarios, the T-shirt functioned to publicize a key attribute of the wearer’s political identity that would not have been obvious or visible otherwise, in order to make a point about the presence of that identity in a particular locale… By creating visibility for their political identities via this popular culture platform, the participants here see themselves as potentially challenging public perceptions of who “the people” out there really are, a reality-redefining gesture that they conceptualize as an efficacious form of political action.

I would argue that the HRC red equal sign campaign follows precisely the same logic. In fact, in the conclusion of the article, I suggest that the ‘digital body’ of social networking profiles can be used in a very similar way as the physical body, providing further opportunities for politically-engaged citizens to make their identities visible as a way of advancing persuasive messages in the public sphere. When these practices are coordinated so that many bodies simultaneously articulate images of ‘the people’ in a collective show of force, these messages can be particularly powerful.

Indeed, the HRC used both strategies in their ‘love’ campaign this week, urging marriage equality supporters to wear the color red as well as to change their profile pictures to the red equal sign image. The organization is also selling T-shirts featuring the logo, further underlining the connection between these two sorts of identity-based viral communication strategies.

hrc red t-shirt

With the stunning success of the red equal sign campaign this week, I would expect that these sorts of self-labeling campaigns will become more and more widespread in the future – not only for LGBT activism, but for myriad political and social issues.

- Joel Penney

The Personal is Political on Facebook: Dad’s Pro-Gay Note Goes Viral

FCKH8 Dad Note
This week, a father’s loving handwritten note to his gay teenage son became the talk of the town on social media. Originally posted by the LGBT activist group/apparel retailer FCK8 on its Facebook page, the photo has since received coverage on Huffington Post and Daily Kos in addition to numerous repostings by groups like the Trevor Project. Although the note is not the least bit political in itself, it has been quickly adopted by the LGBT movement as a heartwarming example of pro-gay parenting that serves to counter homophobia and intolerance.

To me, what’s fascinating about this viral image is the way in which it illustrates how the classic feminist slogan “the personal is political” is becoming the new logic of political advocacy in the age of social media. On sites like Facebook, volumes of personal stories (expressed in photos, videos, and even status updates) that reference broader social and political phenomena are collected and stored for posterity, serving as raw materials for activist groups to appropriate for their digital outreach efforts. As the viral success of this image underlines, these humanizing stories seem to work very well on social media, as their emotional pull compels onlookers to comment and share. In fact, they may be more effective than politically-oriented posts that don’t capitalize on social media’s personal and intimate nature.

For instance, the group FCKH8 churns out pro-LGBT posts on its Facebook page on a daily basis, but rarely do they enjoy the kind of viral success as the dad’s note to his gay son. This same week, they produced several memes about the anti-gay positions of the new Pope Francis, but these posts (resembling typical political ads) received far less attention.
FCKH8 Pope Meme
To demonstrate the contrast, the above meme posted by FCKH8 got only 1,700 Likes on Facebook this week, while the dad’s note got over 77,200 Facebook Likes (not to mention the Trevor Project repost that got an additional 33,200 Likes). In other words, people seem to really like the personal stuff.

Of course, this brings up serious issues of privacy. One has to wonder whether or not the dad and son in question gave permission for their private correspondence to be spread across the internet in such a public fashion. While their identities are not referenced in the image, it is certainly possible that they would be uncomfortable having their personal moment transformed into a political symbol. Of course, on Facebook, privacy is an afterthought. The next time you post about your personal life, you may be unwittingly participating in viral politics…

Meme Templates: The New Tool for Political Activism

Privacy memes - futurama fry
Recently, my friend Peter Micek of the digital rights organization Access alerted me to how internet privacy activists are using popular memes to get their message across about Data Protection Regulation in the European Union (learn more about this important issue here). At the Privacy Memes Tumblr page, you can view dozens of user-generated one-liners that attempt to inject some accessible humor into a rather dense and complex policy debate. Here’s another entertaining example…

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What struck me about this campaign is not so much the specifics of how it is adopting popular memes for its own purposes, but rather how such efforts exemplify the broader trend of using standardized meme templates as a new form of online political speech. In the past few years, a fairly small repertoire of stock memes (Futurama Fry, Advice Animals, etc.) have emerged as a cultural phenomenon, with their familiar joke set-ups serving as raw materials for a plethora of aspiring internet comedians. Originally popularized on Reddit discussion boards, these memes can now be easily customized by using a variety of sites like Memebase (part of the Cheezburger empire). While the vast majority of this stuff appears to be just for giggles, savvy activists like those above are beginning to latch on to this phenomenon as a means of articulating their political positions in the rapid-fire comedic language of internet culture. Some may view this as perhaps the ultimate dumbing-down of political discourse, but there seems to be a clear strategic value to using humorous pop-culture references as a way of making a message accessible to a broader public (particularly the youth demographic).

I wonder, however, if this stable of meme templates presents new limitations as well as new opportunities. For instance, if you’re not a fan of the sort of male-oriented geeky culture typically referenced in these memes (Futurama, Lord of the Rings, etc.) would the above make much sense to you? Are there any cultural/ideological assumptions or frameworks embedded in these templates, or are they completely adaptable to express any idea imaginable? The very concept of ‘the meme’ seems to be taking on a more and more narrow definition as of late, which is very different from how it was conceived more broadly in the 1990s by authors like Douglas Rushkoff (who was among the first to apply evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins’ original idea of cultural contagion to the context of media-based activism). Although new memes are certainly being generated every day, the increasing dominance of a handful of archetypal characters and images is a development that new media scholars should be attentive to when examining their uses in the political arena.

The Sip: Marco Rubio’s Viral Moment and the Triumph of Political Style

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It was the sip heard around the world… last week, during the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, Florida Senator Marco Rubio caused a social media sensation by awkwardly lunging for a water bottle in the middle of his speech. Within seconds, Twitter exploded with mocking commentary, and the incident was quickly turned into humorous memes and gifs like the one above. Know Your Meme has a good roundup of the viral media explosion surrounding Rubio’s water break, which includes documentation of over a dozen Twitter parody accounts impersonating the water bottle itself.


See more on Know Your Meme

This social media activity brings to mind Jason Wilson’s 2011 study of political Twitter-faking published in the journal Convergence, entitled “Playing With Politics.” Interestingly, Wilson’s contention is that the people who create these political parody accounts on Twitter have no interest in making a political impact, and see themselves as simply entertaining a niche audience of political junkies (or ‘political fans’). While this suggests that the Rubio incident could be simply a matter of political discourse being transformed into popular culture, such an account seems to miss some of the underlying issues at play.

While there is no evidence as of yet regarding why people shared memes, gifs, and viral videos mocking Rubio’s water sip, the phenomenon does seem to have a real political dynamic behind it. It would be no surprise to learn that those who jumped on the incident via social media were largely Rubio critics who had a vested interest in adding to his humiliation, with the hopes that damaging his public reputation could potentially cause trouble for his future political career as a Republican presidential hopeful.

In fact, I would argue that rather than being pure pop culture fun, this sort of coordinated social media ridicule is becoming a key instrument of political power in our contemporary era of post-modern ‘mediatized’ politics. As John Corner and Dick Pels explain in their landmark 2003 volume “Media and the Restyling of Politics,” the dominant position of television and new media in political discourse have thoroughly tipped the balance in favor of style over substance, for better or for worse. Political style (performed through live television appearances, among other things) has become a primary way in which citizens evaluate their leaders. By pointing to Rubio’s “not ready for primetime” moment, the water bottle mockers were effectively making a rhetorical argument about the politician’s shortcomings as a master of political style. Of course, such a critique fails to engage with the actual substance of Rubio’s speech. Those who are concerned about the trivialization of politics via popular media (such as followers of Neil Postman, Stuart Ewen, and the like) may view this as a worrisome sign of the times.

Furthermore, Rubio quickly sensed how the embarrassing incident was being used against him by political detractors on social media (not to mention the obligatory parodies on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live) and responded with a style-conscious and social media-savvy strategy of his own. Almost immediately after the speech, Rubio tweeted a photo of the water bottle as an exercise in ingratiating self-effacement.

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A few days later, Rubio’s Political Action Committee launched a line of Rubio-branded water bottles, which supporters could receive with a $25 donation. The effort has already raised over $100,000 for the PAC, leading media outlets to declare that Rubio is having the last laugh. These developments suggest that both political camps are becoming highly sophisticated in their attempts to ‘spin’ viral moments on social media, and that style-heavy political rhetoric is increasingly being countered not with political substance but simply with more clever style. Which side is doing the better job here is likely in the eye of the beholder…