The Meaning of Memes
2021 inauguration day arrived with plenty of apprehension. Images of the people of the day filled our screens – from politicians and their families to dressed up celebrities.
Then the camera panned over to a masked Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont. He was sitting alone with crossed hands, wearing a very practical Gore-Tex® jacket and large hand-knitted mittens.
Soon after the event, photoshopped images from all over the country had inserted Bernie’s image into everyone’s lives, flooding our social media feeds. Local and national brands were happy to incorporate Bernie into their posts. They made us laugh, they made us wince and they warmed our hearts in a weirdly comforting way.
We found out about Jen Ellis, the 2nd grade Vermont teacher, who made the must-have mittens that are now fetching up to $2,500 per pair. And even now, on Bernie’s website “Chairman Sanders” merchandise sales have raised $1.8 million dollars for charities in Vermont. Tobey King, of Corpus Christi, Texas crocheted a version of Bernie that sold for $20,000. Party shops were even selling Bernie Piñatas.
As a creative marketing firm, the part of this visual gag – which went on for days – that most interested us was the crudely put together memes. Whether created in Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft Word, Google Maps, an app or perhaps just a sketch, they are not only current examples of graphic design but are part of a collective cultural phenomenon in every social media channel.
We wouldn’t necessarily call this output fine art or award-winning graphic design, but for a brief moment in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and civic unrest, the memes gave us a much-needed reprieve and a sense of connectedness that even the most celebrated or sophisticated design is unlikely to achieve.
The illustration above? Created by Kelly Allen, one of our senior designers. More of his work can be seen here.