Is Donald Trump more like a YouTube comment section come to life, or a villain in a movie where the protagonist is a dog? In an insightful blog post, Andy Baio dissects the former joke-meme. You’ve probably seen it around somewhere — it has spread through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr like wildfire, but it’s unclear where it came from, or if everyone just realized that Trump spouts the kind of opinions you find high up on Reddit at the same time.
Baio traces it back to a single tweet from April 27, 2011, long before our current national nightmare of Trump candidacy. “Donald Trump is the living embodiment of an Internet message board troll,” @PoorMeinNYC writes. But the one-liner reappears constantly, albeit with slight variations. Journalist Olivia Nuzzi came up with the influential “Trump is like a YouTube comment thread that achieved sentience.” Marc Andreessen apparently overheard it once.
The meme fractured further. New York Magazine’s own Jerry Saltz tweeted a viral version with a photo of handwritten text. Then Brian Gaar took first prize on December 7 with a 40,000-liked tweet, “Donald Trump is basically a YouTube comment section running for president.”
The results of Baio’s investigation show that the viral success of a joke sometimes isn’t so much content as it is timing. Do Trump jokes do best when the candidate himself is being particularly ridiculous? Or is that when people are most likely to retweet? The profusion is surreal, but Baio notes that it’s not just Fat Jew–style plagiarism. Rather, it’s a case of multiple discovery — the idea that scientific innovations are often discovered simultaneously by different groups of people.
I noticed another example of this phenomenon in the joke about Trump and movies about dogs. It’s a good line — Trump has that shaggy haircut and vicious grin that marks him as an enemy for any right-thinking 6-year-old (or, hopefully, American voter). You could just see Trump capering after a tiny golden-retriever puppy that has his toupee in its mouth. In fact, lots of people have.
But the original tweet about Trump and dogs is probably @ruinedpicnic on August 29, 2015:
It has over 45,000 likes, and the author quickly disputes any arguments that he found it elsewhere. Seems real! But that hasn’t stopped multiple people daily from tweeting it like it’s their own joke, not even bothering to throw quotations marks around it, let alone retweet. In fact, most probably haven’t even seen the original. It also exists as an image on funnyjunk.com and various Twitter screenshots. Someone even tweeted a nice image-macro version at Marc Andreessen.
The joke’s still funny, and it will no doubt remain relevant till Trump is either knocked out of the race or becomes racist-dictator-in-chief and quashes all dissent. But if this profusion proves anything, it’s that social-media humor is incredibly derivative. Even if you think you made that hilarious tweet up, it’s probably been done before.