Hey, Rep. Paul Ryan, you made a mistake.
Didn’t you know that dissing a meme is a very bad move in the 21st century?
Last week, Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said on the “Don Wade & Roma” radio show that he “never expected that” and that the Tumblr blog dedicated to him was “surreal.” The Tumblr dedicated to Ryan is a play off various popular Ryan Gosling memes, which show the actor in sexy poses with sayings about vegan food, philosophy and feminism.
On Monday, the Ryan meme creators — Emily Zanotti, Lyndsey Fifield and Lindsey Dodge — decided to call it a day and say goodbye to their brief online flirting with the representative.
“We’re just a few 20-something women who think fiscal sanity and conservative values are sexier than anything else. This has been a lot of fun, but we’re going to stop now while we’re still ahead,” they wrote.
That’s very similar to what the creators of a Hillary Rodham Clinton meme said when they decided to abandon their virtual lovefest with the secretary of state. Clinton, unlike Ryan, embraced her meme. She invited its creators to her office where she created her own meme for them. The next day, they stopped the meme. It, of course, lives on through the Internet.
Ryan should not have shied away from his meme. When the radio host said to Ryan that he would drive people to the Web site, Ryan said with a laugh, “No, no. We’re good. Please don’t do that.”
While he is often whispered about as a vice presidential choice for Mitt Romney, Ryan still doesn’t have 100 percent name recognition in middle America. Even if he doesn’t become a veep choice this cycle, he certainly has a bright political future — maybe even a run for president in the next few years.
Today’s political meme is like appearing on MTV and “The Arsenio Hall Show” in the 1990s. Embracing pop culture catapulted Bill Clinton. In 2008, the Obama campaign used emerging social media and the Internet better than any campaign ever had. If Ryan had embraced his meme, would it have withered so quickly?
For a nano-minute once, I had a crush on Ryan. He is cute, articulate and smart. Women like that, and memes — at least the one about Ryan — highlighted his sexiness. Sure, the memes were a bit cheesy, but they weren’t meant to be stodgy briefing papers. One of them showed Ryan with a bow and arrow saying, “Hey girl, feel the tension? Oh yeah, that’s riiiight.” Another one said, “Girl, please … my love for you is way deeper than the public-sector deficit.” Bill Clinton would have laughed at such silliness, and like his wife, probably would have created his own if memes had been around in the 1990s.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) played off the Ryan meme in a news release to Washington media, in which her staff created their own harsh take about Ryan’s policies. One of the Pelosi-created memes said, “Hey Grandma, When I say ‘save’ Medicare, I mean let it wither one the vine.”
Another one showed a smiling Ryan: “Hey Schoolgirl, College can be affordable — as long as you borrow money from your parents.”
Political memes are here to stay, so Ryan had better take a lesson from Hillary and embrace the next ones that are created about him. In fact, all politicians should learn to laugh at themselves and, in turn, utilize memes in witty, innovative ways for political capital like Pelosi did.
As Dominic Basulto, a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists), wrote in April in The Washington Post,the meme is the new political sound bite. Basulto said, “If you’re a politician, this means you can’t create a viral meme, but you can seed the Internet with the right type of material.”
Len Shyles, professor of mass media in Department of Communication at Villanova University, echoes that sentiment.
“It’s normal everyday politics that are now being done in memes,” he said.
Hey, Paul Ryan, get used to it.