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Why the GOP Twitter couldn't pull off the "This is fine" meme

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

You probably can’t name the creator or explain the origins of the "This is fine" internet meme, but if you spend any time on social media, you’ve probably seen it used recently in response to news of dire calamity, both real and perceived.

The "This is fine" meme is a perfectly succinct way to illustrate that most persistent of reactions to whatever trouble may surround us: denial.

The meme — which depicts a cartoon dog sipping coffee as the room he’s sitting in literally goes up in flames — hails from a 2013 edition of the well-known webcomic Gun Show, created by K.C. Green. The full comic carries the joke even further:

Out of context, the meme is usually used to suggest that you are ignoring some drama that’s happening around you. Sometimes, it’s also used to hint that you’re secretly celebrating said drama.

The latter case is likely more representative of the GOP Twitter account’s deployment of the meme on Monday evening.

Perhaps the GOP’s social media manager meant to imply that the Democrats selecting Clinton as their presidential candidate this week at the Democratic National Convention were the ones in denial about the damage being done to their party as the result of their choice. Or perhaps the Republicans were simply celebrating what they saw as a Democratic meltdown.

The GOP’s meme reference didn’t work out as planned

In any case, the party’s use of the meme drew swift backlash — not only from Democrats, but from fans of the meme’s origin. Comics collective TopatoCo, which distributes merchandise for a number of popular webcomics including Gun Show, sent the following message to the party:

Meanwhile, Green himself more or less gritted his teeth to the pain of seeing his artwork appropriated by the polarizing right-wing:

But the joke was on the GOP; Green had already anticipated the meme’s use in the current political climate — and not in a way that’s flattering to the Republicans. Popular political webcomic The Nib, which publishes satire by a variety of artists, recently commissioned Green to create a special variant of "This is fine" for its Philadelphia gallery show, which overlaps the Democratic National Convention this week.

The artwork Green made actually shows a GOP elephant sitting in its own burning house — a reference to the controversially extreme, arguably racist views espoused by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Apparently the irony was too great for The Nib to resist pointing out to the GOP’s Twitter:

The Nib’s dig at the GOP for using Green’s image without paying for it is a sly one, but it ignores the complicated statuses of images that become viral internet memes. The subject of paying artists and content creators whose works go viral and then seemingly become the collective property of whoever wants to use them online is always a controversial one in the remix-heavy culture of the internet. But Green, who’s about to launch a Kickstarter for an adorable plushie version of the "This is Fine" dog, generally tries not to row against the stream of viral internet success. He had more thoughts on the GOP tweet to share Tuesday:

On Twitter, GOP supporters and detractors alternately mocked and lauded the idea that a creator’s opinion should have any bearing on how their work gets used. Green’s experience follows that of a litany of musicians who have protested the GOP’s use of their music; most recently, the estate of George Harrison lambasted Trump’s use of "Here Comes the Sun" and Luciano Pavarotti’s widow asked Trump to stop using the late tenor’s recording of the famous Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma" on the campaign trail.

Of course, Trump has bigger problem on his hands than pop culture artists decrying his use of their works. But for many anti-Trump voters, mocking Republican attempts to use internet jokes probably provides a much-needed distraction from a bitter and contentious election cycle.

In fact, it’s almost like enjoying a cup of tea while the house burns down around you.

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