We Shall Overcomb. An Analysis of Donald Trump Hair Memes

Essay, 2016

10 Pages, Grade: unbenotet



1. Introduction

2. A Theoretical Approach to Trump Hair Memes
2.1 The Function and Success of Trump´s Hair Internet Memes
2.2 Hair Meme Message “We Shall Overcomb”
2.3 Trump Hair Memes as Part of Contemporary Media Culture

3. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

At least once in a lifetime probably every one of us has woken up with some kind of disordered hair that we could not get control of. Bad hair days are normal; bad hair days are part of our life; so bad hair days should be considered as one of the most natural things in the world. Besides, millions of people, mainly males in and around their 60’s, have a comb over. That is just natural. So why has the spreading of such ordinary (bad) hair of the potential candidate for the 45Th US-presidency, Donald Trump, via the internet becomes so famous? Why has Trump’s hair inspired so many internet memes and aroused global interest? Does his hair also help to spark political interest in young internet users and potential voters who generally do not know much about politics? And what insights do these spreading online memes give people into contemporary socio-cultural and media issues?

Generally speaking, the aim of this paper is to look at the concept of Donald Trump hair memes by giving a brief definition of memes in general, its core characteristics and to reveal different theoretical perspectives of such internet phenomena. An analysis of specific chosen internet meme of Donald Trump according to academic concepts will be then undertaken. Finally, reflections about the representation of Donald Trump hair memes within current media and semiotic culture will be presented. The paper ends with a conclusion about the internet phenomena of Donald Trump’s headdress.

2. A Theoretical Approach to Trump Hair Memes

First definitions of such memes have arisen from a biological perspective by the scientist Dawkins who considered memes as non-genetic behaviour (Davison 121). Their development can be related to the analogies of genetic, biological evolution that undergoes a process of selection, competition, adaptation and retention (cf. Shifmann 11ff.). Other approaches criticise the evolutionary (passive) approach of selection, retention and the survival of the fittest within an ever changing environment but regard the rise of memes more as an active part by “Human Agency” in which humans have control over the dissemination of such memes (cf. Shifman 11ff).

However, both approaches have their shortcomings when it comes to analysing the following memes about Donald Trump. Firstly, memes about his hair do not necessarily arise due to a certain competition of some other memes of another US candidate for presidency such as Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Secondly, it is questionable whether the polarizing statements of this millionaire Trump during the ongoing presidential campaign is this important? Thirdly, once the political debate is over and a president has been elected, there is no doubt that Trump hair memes will come to an end; thus the lifecycle of his hair memes already have a limited time from the beginning on and therefore cannot be explained by the evolutionary theory. Referring to Human Agency, the theory claims that humans have control over the dissemination of memes (Shifman 11ff.). However, Donald Trump hair memes, as most likely many other memes, cannot be fully controlled by humans. The reason for can be explained due to the sophisticated digital technology nowadays where users are able to easily create memes with tools such as meme generator.net and spread them through the global internet freely and anonymously. The sharing of such content, ideas or narratives online and across multiple media channels (cf. Jenkin 52) is unmanageable by any human being; but exactly this defines the success of memes (cf.).

2.1 The Function and Success of Trump´s Hair Internet Memes

Internet memes are according to Shifman digital items that share common characteristics: firstly by a content of a specific text, ideas and ideologies; secondly by the physical appearance and specific visual dimensions and thirdly by the tone and style of communication and its communicative functions (cf. Shifman 40 ff.). Applying this to hair memes of Donald Trump it is clear that a common characteristic is the visual appearance of his ginger-blonde hairpiece, either blown up by the wind, being overcombed in a neat way or by remixing strategies by detaching the hairpiece onto some animal´s head.

illustration not visible in this excerpt[1]

Even though these internet memes fulfil Shifman’s theoretical definition of sharing common characteristics, it is still debatable whether all such hair memes also fulfil the same common communicative function.

To make an internet meme become successful, it requires three important features: simple packaging, the use of humour and simplicity (cf. Shifman 95). Assuming that all three are fulfilled in the above images, one cannot state whether these memes serve only one communicative function of some funny gleeful humoristic and simple entertainment. It could be also considered by some viewers as a kind of hidden political provocation. This may stress the communicative function of sharing political opinions and enhancing critical political thinking among U.S. voters as well as in global society. Furthermore, it may also function to attract worldwide (young) people who have a high internet-literacy but little knowledge about politics. It could trigger their interest in finding out who this person Trump is and why he is a famous political object of many internet memes. Even though Trump hair memes could serve as an entertaining tool in the first place, these could in the second place take over the function of getting more people interested into politics, enhancing critical reflection even among some young internet users.

2.2 Hair Meme Message “We Shall Overcomb”

Messages and slogans that are being used in memes are mostly personalized as the “Yes we can” catchphrase of Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. presidential campaign has already demonstrated (cf. Shifman 124). The campaign was highly effective thanks to the spreading of memes and virals about Barack Obama´s message, produced by pro-Obama artists, and developed into an influential online media content (cf. Shifman 126). Looking at Donald Trump however, it can be stated that no political supporter or organization would ever have published these photographic memes in order to gain more voters for the presidential candidate as this would deliver a less serious and trustworthy image. Therefore, it can be assumed that more ordinary people, who are either interested in politics or just fancy Trump´s comb over and make fun out of it make these memes go viral. Referring back to Dawkins´ evolutionary theory, repetition and variation could be applied according to the images below. These images are replicated with the same slogan, but varied through Trump’s different facial expressions, being put into some kind of artwork in alignment to Andy Warhol or even put into street fashion wear backing with a satirical meaning.

illustration not visible in this excerpt[2]

But what exactly is the meaning of “We shall overcomb”? Is it all about his hairy issue? Surely not. “We shall overcomb” serves at least two communicative functions. Firstly it is the obvious funny and entertaining feature of how we (society) should wear our hair in order to gain or not gain a Trump-community feeling. Secondly this slogan is adapted from an old message from the history of the U.S. and therefore also possesses historical-political roots. In fact, the slogan is an adaptation from the gospel song in 1903 “We shall overcome one day” which was first sung as a protest song in 1945 by striking black tobacco workers in Charleston and being used by activists of the African American civil rights movement in 1950. It was also used by U.S. president Lyndon Johnson in his speech about the Voting Right Act of 1965 that was put into action in order to overcome discrimination and to foster equal rights for racial minorities and for African-American citizens within the U.S (Library of Congress). Nowadays the message is even used by pro-democracy movements all over the world, calling people for solidarity in times of social and racial injustice (Library of Congress).

Donald Trump´s political positioning however has recently been shown to be the antithesis of the original message of the song. His political announcements about civil liberties and rights, migrants and social justice showed to be very contradictable (Stevenson). The remix into “We Shall Overcomb” gives a reference to the original meaning of the protest song but with an opposite meaning behind it. Still, the message offers room for multiple interpretations such as: we shall overcomb (overcome) the effort to fight for civil rights and tolerance or we (society) shall overcomb (bury) the idea of Donald Trump for president as well as we shall overcomb (get over) today´s political culture by voting Trump for president. The implicit meaning of “We Shall Overcomb” might not be understandable by all people who create, receive or are entertained by such Trump hair memes and are therefore free for reflection and subject to interpretation.


[1] Source: Facebook: Donald Trump for President. ˂https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donald-Trumps-Hair-memes/581602078647355˃ (March 15, 2016).

[2] Source: Facebook: Donald Trump for President. ˂https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donald-Trumps-Hair-memes/581602078647355˃ (March 15, 2016).

Excerpt out of 10 pages


We Shall Overcomb. An Analysis of Donald Trump Hair Memes
University of Wuppertal
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Culture, Media Studies, Internet Memes
Quote paper
Verena Born (Author), 2016, We Shall Overcomb. An Analysis of Donald Trump Hair Memes, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/322058


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