Grappling with the Politics of Humorous GIFs

Elizabeth Nathanson, Muhlenberg College


By the end of the semester in my introductory Media and Society class I ask students to return from our semester-long inquiry into the role of celebrity culture to the questions about media and democracy that frame the course. To do so, I teach a reading about gender, anger and Joe Biden memes written by Hollis Griffin in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Because I want students to consider how their politics and location as individuals impacts their consuming and producing habits, I asked Griffin to provide a short introduction indicating his very personal motivation to understand the role memes play in giving voice to political concerns and igniting political feelings. Following a discussion of the article, I ask students to create their own politically engaged, humorous GIFs.

Using free online software such as or, students work in pairs to create 3-5 humorous GIFs that grapple with some political issue about which they care personally. They send me these gifs and I then show them to the class anonymously and the class then votes for their favorite. This GIF activity works to reveal the complexity of “easy” media production, and to grapple with the role humor and politics play in acts of everyday media production and circulation. Ideally, this activity also helps students transition from this course focused on critical media literacy, to our next course in the major, Documentary Research, in which they study the ethics of media production.



The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF /dʒɪf/ JIF or /ɡɪf/ GHIF), is a bitmap image format.

Key Terms/Tags:

Simple media production, media literacy

Directions for GIFs:

  1. Visit the MakeAGIF website or the GIPHY website and create an account.
  2. Explore options to upload graphics or use popular GIFs already available.
  3. Download the final file for embedding or sharing.