If you watched the presidential and vice presidential debates this October, how those debates were perceived—both in terms of standout moments and who was winning—may have been shaped by where you watched them.
If you happened to have your browser window open and were perusing Facebook or Twitter, you would have seen the internet pluck out seemingly minor phrases and obsessively mock them, magnifying the significance of what would have otherwise been mundane statements—aka "binders full of women" or "killing Big Bird." The internet hordes quickly latched on to such absurdities and within mere moments launched themed Tumblr blogs, fake Twitter accounts, and hashtags that then carried these sound bites into the next day's news cycle.
The vehicle for such mockery was the meme—the term coined to describe how a small piece of culture is replicated and evolves over time. Here we take a look at the memes that had the largest impact on the internet in 2012.
1. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy
When New Yorker Zeddie Little attended a South Carolina 10K race earlier this year, he had no inkling that his face was about to be plastered across the internet, becoming the embodiment of that photogenic guy we all envy when flipping through Facebook photos. Photographer Will King snapped a picture of Little as he ran by and later noticed that, while many of the runners were overcome with looks of agony and sweat, Little's face was unflustered and picturesque. He uploaded it to Reddit with the headline "My friend calls him 'Mr Ridiculously Photogenic Guy," and it wasn't long before reporters were able to track him down and identify him. The question every journalist aimed to answer? Whether Little was single (sadly, the answer was no).
2. Overly Attached Girlfriend
Everyone has a story about the girl or guy they met who began naming their future kids mere days after the first date. Or a tale of a paranoid girlfriend who launched accusations of infidelity after the slightest whiff of suspicion. To represent this jealous, hyper aggressive significant other, we have the Overly Attached Girlfriend. The image for the meme was captured from a Justin Bieber fan video submitted to a sing-off competition the pop star had created. The video promised that "If I was your girlfriend / I'd never let you leave / without a small recording device / taped under your sleeve/ I'll always be checking up on you." The creator of the video, Laina Walker, meant it as a spoof (at least we hope!).
3. McKayla Maroney Is Not Amused
Most Americans would be more than satisfied to qualify for the Olympics, much less place in them. But not gymnast McKayla Maroney. While standing on the podium accepting a silver medal for the vault, her face, perhaps unknowingly, adopted a rather disappointed disposition. It wasn't long before the internet took her "not amused" face and sought to find hundreds of other fantastic human feats that failed to pass her approval. This meme came full circle when President Obama showed off his lack of amusement with Maroney during her visit to the White House in November.
4. Binders Full of Women
What first started as a minor gaffe ballooned into one of the defining moments of the second presidential debate. Asked by an audience member what he would do to "rectify the inequalities in the workplace," Romney recounted his time as governor when, unsatisfied with the number of women in the state government positions, he "went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?' and they brought us whole binders full of women." Not only was the story badly phrased, but there was significant doubt cast on Romney's retelling of the events. In addition to parody Twitter accounts and images, the meme jumped offline as binders full of women became a popular Halloween costume.
5. Killing Big Bird
"I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too," Romney said to debate moderator Jim Lehrer, the host of PBS's NewsHour. "But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for." Thus the "Kill Big Bird" meme was born, helped in no small part when President Obama joked about it in his stump speeches and even produced an ad urging voters to save the Sesame Street character.
6. Grumpy Cat
According to Bryan Bundesen, the owner of a cat named Tardar Sauce, the animal really is rather joyful. "She likes to be held, cuddled," he told a Columbus Dispatch reporter. This didn't stop the rest of the internet from ascribing the cat an ornery, cantankerous demeanor, one that hates Christmas, good cheer, and anything resembling fun.
Who knew? It turns out if you wander onto a national stage and conduct an incoherent, babbling argument with a chair, the internet will want to make fun of you for it! Thus Eastwooding was born, and thousands of Americans fanned out to pick fights with their own recliners, stools, and sofas.
8. Texts from Hillary
How do you know when your meme has gone mainstream? One indicator may be when the subject of your meme submits her own iteration of it. Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith launched the Texts From Hillary Tumblr after stumbling across a decidedly badass photo of the Secretary of State texting from a military jet. When the two dreamed up the idea in a bar one night they probably never would have predicted that one day Clinton's staff would reach out to the two with the message that the Secretary loved the site and wanted to meet them. Perhaps appropriately, she signed her own submission "Hillz"
9. Shit X Says
Though the original "Shit Girls Say" video actually debuted at the end of 2011, the meme continued to gain momentum into the new year. The meme, which has spawned thousands of videos, explores the cultural, ethnic, and gender stereotypes of different groups by offering up a litany of phrases that supposedly exemplify each group. In "Shit Hipsters Say," for instance, a hipster tells us "you've probably never heard of it," "Do you guys have a vegan menu?" and "Can I get a PBR?"
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