Dildoshops, Gritty, and Bernie’s Mittens: The Framing of American Politics Through Pop Cultural Memes

Christina Wurst


An unprecedented number of memes emerged in response to the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. This article offers a thematic analysis of a corpus of memes published on Twitter between November 3, 2020 and January 20 2021 in relation to the U.S. presidential election. By further employing a qualitative discourse analysis and close readings of selected examples, this article explores the stances and intertextual references expressed in the memetic discourse. I illustrate which events users engage with, how they frame them using the elements of American pop culture, and the different functions such memes served for different publics. Central events – such as Donald Trump’s press conference in a Four Seasons Total Landscaping parking lot, Joe Biden’s victory and rumors about the Russian president Putin resigning – were commented upon both with broad references to widely popular franchises such as Star Wars and with multi-layered intertextual references to iconography of meme culture such as the Hockey mascot Gritty. Memes exaggerated events for comedic purposes, providing relief after a long time of tension, as well as possibly trivializing and distorting public perception of events.  While meme activity peaked on November 6th and 7th, a singular viral meme of Bernie Sanders emerged after Joe Biden’s inauguration, illustrating a different genre of meme as a response to a different political situation in which the political figure serves a wide variety of purposes in commenting upon popular culture. Such memes served to establish a sense of community, agency, and catharsis after the anxieties many Democratic voters experienced prior to the election. These findings present the growing role of popular and fan culture to political discourse on mainstream social media platforms and their varied and highly flexible expression.


memes, Twitter, popular culture, fandom, American politics, elections

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17951/nh.2021.6.111-129
Data publikacji: 2021-10-10 16:24:49
Data złożenia artykułu: 2021-04-25 23:53:02


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