Big Bird, Bayonets and Binders: The best debate memes of 2012

© James Steidl - Fotolia.comWho won the presidential debates of 2012, you ask? Sure, media and political analysts might be calling it 2 out of 3 wins for Barack Obama… But the real winner this year is the meme.

Put simply, a meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, but the word has caught on today as Internet memes spread like wildfire.

Political debates have long been known for giving birth to memorable zingers like, Lloyd Bentsen’s “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” or Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” But in the age of Twitter, a gotcha zinger by itself just isn’t good enough. It needs to be meme-worthy — that is, easy to convert into 140-character Tweets, quippy soundbites, and animated or captioned images (my fave is the post-RNC “I’m with [picture of chair]!“) This debate season has been meme-tastic, so I thought I’d recap the best of them here:

1.) Binders full of women – When the candidates were asked during the second presidential debate how they plan to rectify gender inequality in the workplace, Romney’s answer stole the show (but not in the way he intended). He said his team brought him “binders full of women” so he could find qualified females to serve on his staff.  Oops. In about a nanosecond, the Binders Full of Women Tumblr blog and had sprung up on the Web. Twitter was set ablaze, and reviews for Avery binders on Amazon would never be the same again.

2.) Horses and bayonets – During the third debate, Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for the Navy having fewer ships than it did in 1917. Where he was going with that, I don’t know — but the President struck back with, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” And with that, an Internet meme was born — the line won Obama the debate, and the phrase became an instant hit (soon after the debate, there were over 105,000 Tweets per minute about #horsesandbayonets). Just for the record, the military does still have some horses and bayonets

3.) Big Bird – Mitt Romney was on a tear during the first presidential debate, and one of his targets was PBS. Romney said that while he liked PBS, Big Bird and even debate moderator Jim Lehrer, he was going to stop the subsidy to PBS. A slew of angry Big Bird memes ensued, including an official Obama campaign ad (it later got pulled down, though, since Sesame Street is a nonpartisan nonprofit). So who won this meme war? Sorry boys, Sesame Street made out like a bandit with this one — Big Bird costumes are flying off the shelves for Halloween this year.

4.) The 1980s called – The third presidential debate was Obama’s turn to go on a tear, criticizing Romney for being stuck in the Cold War by calling Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Of course, the president said it with style and sarcasm: “The 1980s called — they’re asking for their foreign policy back.” If you ask me, this meme didn’t get the steam behind it that it deserved (Example: The 1980s called — they want to send you Trapper Keepers full of women…wearing shoulder pads.”) Still, #The1980sCalled was very much a meme of its own.

In the year of the meme, President Obama has been declared the clear winner of the Twitter war — now let’s see how that translates at the polls.

Is ‘booyakasha’ the new ‘cowabunga’ for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

© dragan85 - Fotolia.comThe ’10s have become the decade of 80s remakes, from The Karate Kid to Footloose to The A-Team. (Rumor has it there’s a Dirty Dancing remake in the works… blasphemy!) So it comes as no surprise that 80s comic book, TV series and 1990 hit movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been retooled for Nickelodeon.

The series is already being heralded a success as TMNT merchandise flies off the shelves (better get your hands on some TMNT gear now — it’s the hot item this holiday season.) There’s even a new movie in the works from Michael Bay, due out in 2014.  Turns out these ass-kicking, pizza-loving turtles still have major shell-ing power. (Yes, I went there.)

But diehard fans think the remakes are, well, totally bogus. Aside from the fact that the TV show features slick computer animation and the movie will have a new origin story (the turtles will come from another planet, rather than a puddle of radioactive ooze), there’s also a new catch phrase on the block.

Fans went ballistic when the classic ‘cowabunga’ was seemingly kicked to the curb in favor of ‘booyakasha.’ So what gives?  Well, the show’s executive producer explained it like this to Entertainment Weekly:  “There was a lot of talk about what the new ‘cowabunga’ was, or whether it should even remain ‘cowabunga’.” They hadn’t actually thought of a word to replace it yet, but the actor who voices Michelangelo started riffing — and ‘booyakasha’ just sort of stuck.

The show’s execs claim that ‘cowabunga’ could still make its way back into the turtles’ vocabulary — but should it? The word ‘cowabunga’ actually dates back to the 1950s, when it was popularized by The Howdy Doody Show. It evolved into a surfing catchphrase and rose to prominence in the late 1980s, when California surfing culture pervaded national pop culture and regularly spawned new catchphrase. ‘Booyakasha’ is decidedly a word of the 2000s with notably different roots (it’s often associated with Ali G).

As a child of the 80s, I’m not crazy about all the remakes — I’d rather see new stories being told. And why replace Patrick Swayze or Kevin Bacon when they danced their asses off so perfectly in some of the biggest hits of the 80s? But my feeling is, if you’re going to remake a movie, don’t just take the exact same script and plunk fresh faces into the leads — really remake it. Modernize it, find a new angle, set it in a different era, and yes, even play with language to translate it into something that meshes with contemporary culture. After all, we do it with Shakespeare — so why not with nunchuk-wielding reptiles?

4 gourd puns to put you in an autumnal mood

May the gourds be with youWhen Starbucks adds pumpkin syrup to their lattes and Safeway sells inedible gourds, you know… autumn is nigh.

At least, those are the only signs of fall here in San Francisco. This marks my first year living in a city without a noticeable fall, my favorite season of all. Whenever I start to wax nostalgic for my pumpkin picking, leaf-raking days of yore, I go out and buy something (anything) autumnal. Turns out, most pumpkin spice treats don’t actually taste like pumpkin. And if I buy another decorative gourd, I’m going to turn into the dude in this McSweeney’s piece.

So, to preserve myself from my expensive gourd habit or another sickeningly sweet pumpkin spice something, I present you with four gourd puns that get me in the fall spirit.

1. May the gourds be with you.
What do I love as much as gourds? Yoda … and Yaddle, of course (look her up).

2. Don’t let your gourd down.
Because there’s nothing worse than a disappointed squash.

3. In gourd we trust.
This one’s only funny if you say “god” with a Jersey accent. Oh. My. Gourd.

4. Ithaca is gourd-geous.
Bam! Double pun for those of you who know what an “Ithaca is gorges” t-shirt is…

Puns about gourds aren’t your thing? Well, what can I say? Don’t hate me because I’m gourd-geous. Happy autumn!

Litquake kicks off in SF, ushering in the most literary season of all, in my mind, is the most literary season of all. Something about pumpkins, red-orange leaves, and apple cider makes me want to read a little Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, or other eerie 19th century writers who were slightly out of their gourds.

Why fall? Maybe it’s because there’s something poetic yet ghastly about a season where nature is at its most beautiful right before it all shrivels up and dies for winter. Or maybe it’s just because as a New Jerseyan by birth, I associate fall nights with being too chilly to spend outside, making autumn a season of reading.  Whatever the reason, I’m out of my gourd with excitement for Litquake 2012.

Litquake, San Francisco’s literary festival, kicked off this weekend and runs through October 13th. As a fairly new San Franciscan, I’m still getting used to the idea that fall isn’t really a season here. But the origins of this festival sound positively autumnal to me:

Originally hatched over beers at the Edinburgh Castle pub in 1999, Litstock debuted as a free one-day reading series in a fog-bound Golden Gate Park.

Thirteen years later, the festival now runs for nine days and features a variety of free or affordable events like public writing sessions, a literary quiz night, and a chance to see creative minds like Daniel Clowes and Dave Eggers in conversation.

But the event I’m most excited for is LitCrawl on October 13th– the “wildest, most wanton literary night of the year” featuring free readings that move across 85 venues including bookstores, bars, cafes, and more. (It allegedly stemmed from a USA Today report that “San Franciscans spend twice the nation’s average on books and booze.”)

It’s such a brilliant idea that the event has caught on in a handful of cities across the U.S. So look for a LitCrawl in a city near you. And if there isn’t a LitCrawl near you, never fear. From Indonesia to Canada to England, this is one of the most popular times of year for literary festivals the world over. Or, you can just curl up with a good book and your favorite libation and celebrate the spirit of fall. After all, there’s no better season for getting lit — literary that is.