Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)

Degree Level





Patsy Watkins

Committee Member

Jan Wicks

Second Committee Member

Patrick Stewart


Benign-violation Theory, Humor, Media Framing, Memes, Presidential Election, Social Media


This thesis was an exploratory study to understand how Democrats and Republicans design memes, use traditional media framing, and how memes fit into modern humor theories. The study explores the relationship between the traditional media frames of the ideal candidate, populist campaigner, and the sure loser (Grabe & Bucy, 2009) and the commentary added by Internet users to these images in the memes.

The study also applies the benign-violation theory (McGraw & Warren, 2010) to the analysis of memes to understand the design choices made by meme creators. The benign-violation theory states that a physical or psychological violation is benign if 1) an alternative norm suggests the violation is acceptable, 2) the users have a weak or loose connection to the violated norm, and 3) there is a physical and psychological distance between the users and the violated norm (McGraw & Warren, 2010).

The majority of memes used san serif font, in multiple colors, and a mix of capital and lowercase letters. A chi-square revealed no significant relationship between party leaning and meme design. Most of Obama's memes portrayed him as the ideal candidate, and most of Romney's memes portrayed him as the populist campaigner. A chi-square revealed a significant relationship between Romney's image and incongruity, and the results suggest that his image as the populist campaigner were transformed into an "un-populist campaigner" frame. A chi-square revealed a significant relationship between Obama's image and the use of photographic manipulation, but Obama's images appears to be more flattering in all of his memes. Finally, all three of the benign-violation theory criteria were applied to discuss why the memes were designed and posted for specific Facebook pages in 2012.