When Pop Culture Met Politics


Politicians want to be cool. And I understand. It is a way for them to connect with younger voters, to fit in with our ever-evolving social-media driven world and to assure the world that they, too, can change with the times.

When Ted Cruz reenacts a scene from “The Princess Bride,” when Hillary Clinton breaks out the whip/nae nae on “Ellen,” when Bernie Sanders sings with Vampire Weekend, people notice. Occasionally, these attempts at coolness are cringe-worthy and feeble, but most of the time they are a way for these politicians to make headlines and garner social media hits.

One of the most importants factors that has brought about this inherent blending of pop culture and politics is the exponential rise of social media. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the share of registered voters who follow political figures on social media has doubled since 2010. This means that more people are seeing more updates on the gimmicks of more politicians on a daily basis.

Another growing platform for politicians wading into the world of pop culture is the entity known as the meme. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “meme” as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” I, however, believe the definition we know to be true is closer to “a comical/embarrassing/intriguing photo of a person/animal/thing with big bolded white words that gives meaning to a newly immortalized photo.”

Memes of politicians regularly circulate around the internet, and certainly qualify as one of the areas where pop culture and politics coincide. These may give us good or bad impressions of otherwise seemingly unrelatable people. Or, they simply give us exposure to these politicians while we scroll through our social media feeds.

I do not believe this blending of pop culture and politics is necessarily harmful. I do believe that it encourages more people to engage in political debate and discussion. However, we do have to take this blending of worlds with a grain of salt. Representations of politicians in the media that permeate our culture are almost always biased in one direction or another. A 2015 article in The New York Times stated that “studies consistently show that reporters and editors stand to the left of the American center.”

So, keep watching those Youtube videos of political candidates trying to dance/sing/appear on “Saturday Night Live.” Keep searching for those memes and viewing those photos of politicians posing with Kim Kardashian. Pop culture and politics are fusing day by day, but the intersection of these two spheres is inevitable and, often, highly entertaining.