If you’re a politician, be careful about holding up signs. The internet has a habit of changing what they say.
Politicians have long used signs to support their press conferences, TV appearances, or photo ops has spilled over into an internet free-for-all over the years. Everyone from Speaker Paul Ryan to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to Senator Bernie Sanders — and, of course, President Donald Trump himself — has used these simple but effective visual aids.
But once the internet gets a hold of those images, well, things get a little hairy, with people using Photoshop to add new words and images to the canvas beside the politician.
Here, we’ve rounded up the best and most memorable of the signs — and their ensuing meme-ified versions.
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When White House counselor Kellyanne Conway took to FOX News’s Hannity on July 13 to get her point across following reports of purported Russian attempts to help Donald Trump win the election, no one expected her to use visual aides on-air. And yet that’s exactly what she did, reverting to old-school techniques and leading the internet to explode in memes taking advantage of her white paper signs (or “flash cards,” as some comedians were quick to call them) as the basis for all kinds of puns.
One of the original two slips of paper was printed with the words “CONCLUSION? COLLUSION,” with “collusion” being struck through in red marker to denote the administration’s position. The other paper held the terms “ILLUSION / DELUSION.”
“So just so we’re clear, everyone: four words. Collusion, no. Illusion, delusion, yes,” she said during the evening newscast. “I just thought we’d have some fun with words. A Sesame [Street] Grover’s word of the day, perhaps.” It was an immediate viral hit.
Mainly the internet was there to have fun with the white papers.
Longstanding Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders went very old-school during an appearance on the Senate floor back in January, when he urged his fellow Congress members to veto cuts to public services he supports like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. But that wasn’t the retro part of his presentation. To illustrate his impassioned point, Sanders printed out a giant version of a Donald Trump tweet from back in 2015. The tweet in question? “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me,” Trump had said two years ago.
But to the internet, the content of Sanders’s giant poster (and Trump’s tweet) was moot. The important point was that Sanders had presented a perfect slate for humorous memes. Consider:
When Speaker Paul Ryan held a press conference in March to discuss his party’s proposed replacement to Obamacare, he decided to use a simple PowerPoint presentation format. While normal in most instances, the internet seized on this as a great opportunity to consider all of the other things that Ryan could be presenting in his moment in the spotlight outside of just a healthcare stance. Was he really making a pitch to get a new video game? Was he reflecting on his varying facial hair options? Or was his presentation about something else entirely? As ever, a blank screen provided unlimited options for the hive mind.
In order to showcase his activities in the early days of his presidency, the newly sworn-in Trump took to making sure to share photos after he signed any bills, holding up the documents for cameras to snap during those first weeks in office in January. While this was a helpful way to chronicle his political progress regarding items like a border wall, the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Veterans Affairs Act and refugee programs, it also turned out to be an ideal blank canvas for photo editors eager to add some humor to the proceedings of the new administration. From swapping in simple drawings to more extensive hidden messages, Reddit and Twitter were quick to capitalize on these ample photo ops. Many of the retooled images and GIFs even went viral themselves.
One Twitter account, @TrumpDraws, was especially prolific. It even took to turning out short videos of Trump with all kinds of art adjusted to depict simplistic sketches — or twisted into representations of the President’s latest gaffes.
And to help those who may be less nimble in their Photoshopping, a meme generator was developed so that anyone on the internet can append their own words to a Trump bill.