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Obama: The first meme president

President Obama's first term in office coincided with the growth of online memes -- Photoshopped images and jokes that are passed around the Internet. Here's a history of the first meme president.

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  1. Roosevelt had the radio. Kennedy had television. Barack Obama, as it turned out, had memes.
  2. The four years that Obama has served in the White House coincided with an explosion in Internet memes — Photoshopped images that are passed around via email, blogs, Twitter and Facebook and popularized on sites such as Reddit and Tumblr. 
  3. Though they're usually playful, memes can tell us a lot about what people really think about the president. They've tracked the hopes projected on him, the difficulties he's faced in office and the fears of his opponents. And though they are generated and sustained by grassroots Internet users, Obama has played a key role in popularizing many of them. 
  4. Here's a history of the first meme president, as told through seven major memes: the hope poster, Superman, the teleprompter, Spock, the Joker, the Jedi knight and "not bad."
  5. The hope poster

  6. After eight years of President George W. Bush, liberals were ready for a change. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama was still relatively new to the national stage and served as a blank slate to project their hopes.
  7. (AP Photo/Mannie Garcia)
  8. A freelancer for The Associated Press took this portrait of then-Sen. Obama at the National Press Club on April 27, 2006. Obama was participating in a discussion about African issues. 
  9. Illustrator Shephard Fairey, most widely known for street graphics depicting the wrestler Andre the Giant, adapted the photo into a poster promoting the Obama campaign in 2008. The original version said "progress" at the bottom, but the Obama campaign asked that it be changed to "hope." The poster quickly became one of the most popular graphics in American political history...
  10. ...as well as one of the most parodied. The first Obama meme was born. (Even more parodies here.) In 2009, Fairey and the AP became embroiled in lawsuits over the image. The lawsuit was settled in 2011, but Fairey was sentenced to community service for misleading investigators.
  11. The media picked up on the meme too, with Mad Magazine creating this parody featuring Alfred E. Neuman... 
  12. (AP Photo/TIME)
  13. ...and Time magazine hiring Fairey to create a variation on the image for its Dec. 29, 2008, cover naming President-elect Obama "Person of the Year."
  14. The meme resurfaced during Obama's re-election as a way for conservatives to jab the president over his handling of the economy. The high hopes it once conjured could now be contrasted with the president's actual record in office.
  15. During his speech at the Republican National Convention, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan referenced the poster to conjure up an image of unemployed college graduates still living with their parents.
  16. Peak in Google Trends: November 2008, January 2009
  17. Google results for Obama hope poster: 5 million
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