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#Womeninbinders: Memes as political critique



By Max Laane

Mitt Romney battles Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States of America this year. In the clip above Romney uses an anecdote to explain that he fights for equal women’s rights on the workfloor. When his employees came to him with only male applicants for his cabinet in Massachussets, he started a search for women who are equally as capable as the men. His employees delivered him “binders full of women”. His choice of words was awkward to say the least. Within minutes the Internet exploded with satirical replies in the shape of memes.

Memes [pronounce as meems] are the cultural counterpart of phenomenon in biology. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, wrote about this matter in the seventies in his book The Selfish Gene. A gene, Dawkins found out, has the ability to pass on it’s traits very easily, by ways of mutation for example. A survival of the fittest on a microscopic scale.

This phenomenon of survival of the fittest on the gene scale can also be applied to cultural products like ideas and jokes. Dawkins named these products memes. The ability to mutate is the most important part of the survivability of the meme. Common memes are Ragecomics, Advice Animals and LOLcats.

Memes are expressions of online participation culture and are nurtured by the speed and ubiquity of the Internet. Nowadays it is easy to see memes on the Net and it is also fairly easy to remix and distribute them again on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. In the case of Romney’s utterance, there were over 65 million people watching the debate and alot of people tweeting and the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen was soon born. In no-time there was a Tumblr to collect all the memes and a Facebook page that counters Romney’s rhetoric and provides a space for equal rights on the work floor.

The spread of the memes went so quickly, because of the millions of people who saw it on the television or read it in their Twitter feed. They understood the central concept of Binders Full of Women and can remix it and diffuse it again. Several news sites gave the meme attention and made sure that it came out of the fast paced Twittersphere to become more than just a trending topic.

So, now we are stuck with these aesthetically unpleasing pictures which are witty and sometimes very funny. Now what? Well, mainly because of the ugliness it is possible for a lot of people to contribute to the growing number of memes. They don’t have to be pretty, which takes away a big treshold. Everybody can put new captions on pictures or else they can make one on a site like and send it into the Twittersphere or post it on Facebook. The concept of the picture, in case of Romney’s uttering, is easy to grasp for most people to understand the mutations of the different memes and laugh about it and share it with their own network. This is a new way of criticizing occurances in the news and it does so very effectively.

If you find this interesting, also check out the #eastwooding meme from a month ago.

Max has a special liking for all things digital and is SETUP’s resident meme expert. You can reach him on laanemax[at]

Infiltrating The Chinese Meme, a Masterclass with Zafka Zhang, 27 October 2012, Theater Kikker.

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  1. [...] like Zhang in charge of making it happen.* Max Laane also contributed to this very blog, writing this piece about the “Mitt Romney’s Binders full of Women” meme. Related [...]