By Keaton S. Marsh
The partisan divide in politics has seen a major influx of public opinion through memes, however the concept of political opinion through visual means is not a new concept.
Political cartoons became largely popular in American politics during the Revolutionary War. Cartoonists with revolutionist viewpoints depicted King George as a monarch unfit for the crown and the new form of government as the proper way to govern. Jason McConnell, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Wyoming, said, “Old political cartoons were used to disparage public figures or disparage what they’re doing.” He characterized it as a “…1700s version of an attack ad.”
McConnell said that while memes have the same concept and widely more reach than political cartoons, they do not have the same level of skill. Political cartoons have “So much more detail than memes”. He described the way that political cartoons carried satirical ideas about an intense issue or figure. “Think of a late-night comic makes a joke about a current issue” and “We use humor to poke fun at something serious.” Cartoons are no different.
The basic concept of political cartoons is to create a camp or herd mentality. It allows people of an opinion to band together or to separate out those who don’t match their view points.
“Conceptually they’re (memes) not different from how a ranch hand works a herd of cattle,” McConnell said. “They keep the herd together or separate a calf for a certain purpose”.
“Memes are probably some modern evolution of cartoons,” McConnell said. They allow partisan divide to continue and flourish, as they are both to inform and entertain.
“Describe it (a meme) as a very short condensed form of ad or cartoon. Specifically, on a condensed social media site like Twitter,” McConnell said when discussing how he describes memes to his family members. “Memes are to Twitter what cartoons are to articles.”