In addition to people of all genders at the Women’s March on Washington and Inauguration Day, there were a number of creatures: octopi, frogs, honey badgers, and cats. No, people hadn’t brought a variety of exotic pets—they were bringing along memes, and those memes appeared on signs, pins and other physical media. The octopus was the famous “Nope nope nope” octopus; the frog was Pepe and his leftist counterpart Kermit; the honey badger, known on the internet for not caring, decided to care deeply about the country’s direction; and cats like Grumpy Cat registered their dismay, or approval, with the events of the weekend.
Today, in many global movement contexts, our meme lifecycles now include physical objects. In addition to protest signs, people now imbue hats, pins, cloth bags, pillow cases, and T-shirts with political meme material.
Objects are worn or brought to events, and when people take pictures of them, they circulate back on the internet, thus continuing the meme’s lifecycle online and offline. This creates a visual and verbal language that crosses geographies, uniting protests large and small around the country and internationally.
Consider, for example, the #NastyWoman memes that emerged on the left during the third presidential debate—a response to Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman.” Hashtags quickly popped up, as did a number of jokes in the form of images and image remixes, and within hours, the first Nasty Woman T-shirts were for sale, many of them with the phrase, many with the hashtag. Within days, these T-shirts started shipping to new owners (and helping fundraise for certain causes too), and, soon, returned to the internet via selfies. On the right, a similar set of #deplorables memes emerged in response to Clinton referring to many Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” These memes in turn inspired a variety of hats and T-shirts which circulated online and offline.