On Tuesday night, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey fended off a challenge by Rep. Joe Kennedy III in a highly contested primary race that just one year ago had the incumbent senator trailing by double digits. In that time, the Markey campaign transformed the 74-year-old run-of-the-mill liberal senator into a progressive underdog fighting for the youth, the working class, and the planet, while Kennedy was framed as an establishment stooge relying on family legacy above all else (that endorsement from Nancy Pelosi didn’t help).
This isn’t to say that Markey’s accolades aren’t without merit: While his lengthy record in Congress isn’t spotless, it’s rather progressive, especially where matters of environmental welfare are concerned. Alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Markey co-sponsored the Green New Deal, a transformative piece of legislation that would address climate change and economic inequality through a set of ambitious reforms, public works projects, and a shift to renewable energy. And he unapologetically centered his support of this legislation and other left-of-center policies throughout the primary.
“Tonight is more than just a celebration of a movement,” Markey said during his victory speech Tuesday night. “It is a real reaffirmation of the need to have a movement, a progressive movement of young people demanding radical change, demanding justice.”
But before young people showed up at the polls, they showed up online, participating in a meme-heavy organizing strategy that internet and politically savvy Millennials and Zoomers gravitated towards.
Note the use of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in Markey campaign ad:
In many ways, the Markey campaign felt like Bernie 2.0, but with a happier ending. And one of the many things that overlapped: The use of fancams.
In fact, the Ed Markey fancam phenomenon—another word for fanmade videos stanning a celebrity—appeared to become so popular that Markey’s official Twitter account uploaded a video created by a local supporter:
Of course, there is brilliant irony in seeing the humble Markey stand before a podium, giving a speech about a pipeline or something, while Flo Milli comes in with “I like cash and my hair to my ass!” But that’s part of the goofy brilliance of these memes: They turn a benign and well-meaning old white dude like Markey into a bad bitch. A Kennedy fancam just wouldn’t hit the same way.
These memes alone didn’t help him clench victory, something that the ill-fated Michael Bloomberg presidential campaign didn’t realize when it attempted to use memes to appeal to young voters. It takes more than just memes and stan accounts to get a 23-year-old Twitter user’s attention. You have to have the policies and the record to back them up. The Markey campaign managed to do both.
Thanks, Flo Milli.