MEMEWARS: of gif campaigns and gamer politics

Short thesis

“YES WE CAN”, “Putin rides a horse”, “Merkel’s hands”, the Donald Trump phenomenon: modern politicians are learning the power of memes. Use it, shape it, or somebody else will. As the meme subculture enters mainstream politics, organised political campaigners are entering the meme factories of Reddit, 4chan, Imgur, 9GAG, etc. Identity issues and gamer culture mix with discussions on taxes and foreign policy. Come for a brief overview of memewars and what they tell us about the future of politics.


Since the "YES WE CAN" Obama campaign in 2008, politicians and their staff have been increasingly obsessed with digital campaigning. To reach a young audience, they've had to turn their attention away from traditional media to online mobilisation, crowd-funding and the viral dissemination of ideas and symbols.

The 2016 US presidential campaign has reached a new level of gamified politics. Candidates have had to engage in a strange "Hotline Bling" GIF dance contest to resist the hurricane of Donald "The Living Meme" Trump. The New York Times has even compared GIF disruption to the game-changing effects of radio and TV ("Political GIFs Are the New Sound Bites This Campaign Season").

New political movements in Europe (mainly on the left and right margins of the political landscape) have joined the meme revolution. We can expect similar mainstream developments in 2017 with national elections in Germany and France. Russia’s controversial President Putin can also be described as Europe’s version of the meme-friendly Trump figure - a phenomenon clearly welcome if not encouraged by his PR team.

On social platforms such as Reddit, 4chan and Imgur, users have responded with mixed feelings to the invasion of their long established communities by politics. Some users feel that it reflects the growing politicisation of their generation. Others cry foul and call for organised resistance to the appropriation of meme subcultures and "lol cats" by organised political groups.

Shared elements of a common libertarian ethos are being split along a spectrum of conservative and progressive opinions, with proponents of "political atheism" emerging in response to the new advocates of digital campaigning. Identity issues such as race, gender and religion are at the fore of the debate - replacing or intersecting with "traditional" discussions on fiscal and geopolitical choices.

How will the explosive merging of politics and gamer culture play out? What can it tell us about the future of politics? Come and find out with us!