Perez: Once Upon a Political Meme

Our right to vote is not a laughing matter.

by Sarah Perez | 11/3/16 12:15am

In less than a week, voters will head to the polls to elect the next President of the United States and leader of the free world. Halloween may have been spooky, but for many the scare factor will increase exponentially on Nov. 8. Indeed, entrusting either a misogynist Muppet or a sleazy career politician with the nuclear codes is enough to give anyone nightmares, myself included. I am disappointed with our options on both sides of the aisle. In a country of over 300 million people, I am aghast that we’ve somehow narrowed it down to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

That being said, a rant regarding the breakdown of American democracy is not valuable for you as a reader or for me as a writer. l will talk instead about the real star of the 2016 presidential race: Ken Bone. For those who missed the second presidential debate, Bone was an undecided voter tapped by Gallup to pose a question to the candidates. Sporting a red IZOD sweater, glasses and a perfectly manicured moustache, Bone was an easy target for the internet. Before finishing his question about energy policy, he had already become a sensation in the meme world.

Bone’s iconic sweater sold out within hours of the debate. Trevor Noah of The Daily Show hailed him as a “one-man basket of adorables.” An anonymous Twitter user shared a similar sentiment, describing Bone as “looking like the human version of a hug.”

On its face, this is all in good fun. Bone, a concerned citizen, asked the candidates a question on a national stage and got his 15 minutes of fame. Nothing wrong with that, right? Maybe, but I’d at least like to dig a little deeper.

I don’t think Bone is just another internet meme. He’s certainly joining an illustrious crowd: the ‘Ehrmagerd’ girl, the Dos Equis guy and even Grumpy Cat. But unlike these, Bone is a symptom of something greater.

I laughed at his dorky, horn-rimmed glasses as much as the next person. For a time, I’d at least crack a smile at anything related to Bone. But then I got to thinking — what exactly was I laughing at? It was a little disconcerting when I couldn’t find an answer.

I still don’t have a definitive answer. But I do have a hunch. As millennials, we’re well accustomed to political satire, from Saturday Night Live to Stephen Colbert to the most inane internet memes. We’ve been taught to laugh at anything that seems beyond the bounds of our control, especially the political process. Making jokes about Bone’s remarkable similarity to a teddy bear is way more fun than thinking about the implications — positive or negative — of the upcoming election.

Not only is this warped coping mechanism entirely maladaptive, but it also hinders our development as educated citizens. By entertaining ourselves with election memes, we can easily ignore what candidates are saying on the debate stage, problematic or otherwise, as well as the implications for our future. Most individuals who purchased a Bone look-alike sweater probably couldn’t tell you the first thing about the policies of either candidate. They almost certainly couldn’t tell you that Bone’s question was related to energy policy. But who cares? Halloween was right around the corner, they needed a costume and Bone provided a perfect opportunity. No big deal, right?

Wrong. I, like many others, will vote for the first time next Tuesday, and I’d like to offer up some advice. As much as we’ve been persuaded that this election is a joke, it really isn’t. The stakes are just as high — maybe even higher — as they were four or even eight years ago.

Your vote, regardless of which candidate it is for, will have ramifications for the future of our country, and especially for the future of the LGBTQIA, female and minority communities.

Your vote, regardless of which candidate it is for, will have ramifications for the future of our country. This isn’t a laughing matter, no matter what the Internet tells us. It is incumbent on us to ensure that our democracy doesn’t devolve into bread and circuses, or, in our case, pizza and memes.