“Can you post a viral image of me to your account?“ is the new, “paint me like one of your French girls.”
You might’ve seen Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s Instagram account make this request over screenshot DM’s posted to many meme accounts, especially on Instagram. If you were scrolling through Instagram before bed or on your way to work this morning, you likely bumped into several versions of the exchange.
Despite all the crackdowns on political advertising on social media platforms, these memes live among the posts by friends, ads for expensive clothing we can’t afford, and slime videos that populate our feeds. Memes are cheap to produce and can easily go viral, which means they’re a promising medium for those eying the presidency in 2020. But so far, Bloomberg is the only one we know of to pay off memers to make content about him.
Recognizing their power, many memers recently joined forces under a new company called Meme 2020. Of course, we can’t have questionable meme behaviour without the presence of Jerry Media (né FuckJerry), who not only partook of the Bloomberg sponcon extravaganza, but is one of the masterminds behind it. According to the New York Times, those organizing Meme 2020 collectively wrangle about 60 million followers, with Jerry Media’s chief executive Mick Purzycki serving as lead strategist. Notable meme allies also include capitalism’s cynical mistress, MrsDowJones, and politically-inconsistent meme factories like KaleSalad and Moistbudda as well as the oh-so-relatable MyTherapistSays.
Beyond the novelty of a political candidate paying for memes, these posts are fascinating in just how off-kilter their humour is. Let’s just say they aren’t the most flattering depiction of Bloomberg’s campaign and most take on the attitude of a reluctant teen teaching their elders how to connect to wifi. But they all stop just short of parody. The punchline should be “OK Boomer” but, instead, we’re served with a flat, “yes this is really #sponsored by @mikebloomberg.”
But unless you’re Lil Nas X, being the engine behind your own viral success isn’t something most people can pull off. Especially not with the degree of self-seriousness you’d expect from a political campaign. Let’s not forget that one time the Hilary Clinton campaign tried to tell us all the ways she’s just like “your abuela.” The Bernie Sanders memes are fantastic because he is, once again, not the person asking you to laugh at his joke. Kamala Harris waved and called it a day. Beto O’Rourke didn’t do anything at all. But Bloomberg is paying people to make jokes about him, and something millennials and Gen Zers are likely to see through pretty quickly.