The Facts behind a Meme

2 min read

| By Beth Manar, Senior Content Developer, Gale |

In today’s fast-paced social media news cycle, images of celebrities, government officials, and even ordinary citizens become fodder for viral memes that can travel the globe within hours of their creation. However, many times these images are taken completely out of their original context to make points that their subjects may have never intended. A recent case involving an image of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi illustrates how different people may manipulate a photo or add their own spin depending on their point of view.

On October 16, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (354-60-4) to condemn President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northern Syria. Soon after the vote, U.S. Senate and House leaders joined a meeting at the White House that included President Donald Trump and other White House officials. Tensions between Republican President Trump and Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were already high after she had announced on September 24 that the House would begin an unrelated impeachment inquiry of the president. At some point during the meeting, the conversation became heated and Speaker Pelosi stood to address President Trump. A picture was taken during the confrontation.

Later that day, President Trump posted the image of the House leader standing and pointing at him during the intense exchange on his Twitter account. He captioned the photo: “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown.” Pelosi then appropriated the image, which showed her, seemingly the lone female at a table of seated men (Liz Cheney is obscured by Pelosi’s arm in the photo), and used it as the background for her own Twitter and Facebook accounts. Many commentators, particularly women, rather than seeing Pelosi as “unhinged,” saw the image of a womana leader within one of the coequal branches of government—standing up to men. The image spun across the internet, with interpretations from “disrespectful” to “boss lady” appearing with it, dependent on what the viewer wanted to see.

For more information about how images take on a life of their own when they become viral content, see the Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints page on memes and viral content:

For more information about the coequal branches of the U.S. government, see the Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints page on the separation of government powers:

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