Culturally savvy members of Congress have finally figured out how to move their political messages beyond the quiet broadcasts of C-SPAN: if you meme them, they will spread.
In accordance with regular procedure, members of Congress are allowed to deliver one-minute speeches before daily legislative business, as a means to add remarks or issues to the Congressional record. During a recent session, Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) took the floor equipped with a “Trump Things” sign and a speech inspired by Netflix’s retro horror series Stranger Things. According to Cicilline, we’re not actually experiencing the darkest timeline — we’re in Stranger Things’ monster-filled hell realm.
“Mr. Speaker, like the main characters in Stranger Things, we are now stuck in the Upside Down,” Cicilline said. “Right is wrong, up is down, black is white.” He went on to touch on the White House’s contact with Russia, the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, the immigration ban, and many more of President Trump’s controversial decisions.
The Upside Down is a reference to a parallel dimension in Stranger Things. It’s a cold, dark world that’s home to the Demogorgon, a monster with a tooth-lined, many-petaled flower for a face. “Mornings might be for coffee and contemplation, but Chief Jim Hopper is not coming to rescue us,” Cicilline said. “This is not a TV show. This is real life.”
“Like Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Eleven, we must remain focused on the task at hand and hold this administration accountable so we can escape from our own version of the Upside Down.”
Cicilline invoking both the kid characters and dark imagery from a streaming horror show seems like a goofy, even bizarre, way to deliver a message. But it’s a smart approach to make his comments go viral, on par with the absurdity of printed tweets becoming a talking point in press conferences and during Senate discussions. When Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy slapped the shruggie emoticon onto a sign for a Senate floor speech, Twitter meme’d it and reporters wrote about it, openly expressing gratitude for the break from convention and the automatic news hook. Humor and novelty are powerful tools during otherwise dry sessions, and they’re an easy way for politicians to link potentially unpopular opinions with popular entertainment. They’re also a simple way to make ideas accessible and compelling to a culture that’s already primed to break everything down into memes. If you want to make internet headlines, you need to speak their language.