Gawker is reporting that nearly 40 percent of Florida voters believe that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer, a man who carried out a slew of gruesome murders in the late sixties. Florida voters hold this belief in spite of the fact that Ted Cruz was born in 1970, a year after the last of the murders took place.
“A new national survey from Public Policy Polling has confirmed what we all already knew to be true: As far as a good portion of the American public is concerned, Ted Cruz might as well be the Zodiac killer.”
Cruz’s birth date has not discouraged people, and in fact, some people cite Cruz’s 1970 birth date as evidence that he must be the killer from a past life.
so the Zodiac Killer acted in 1968 and 1969. Ted Cruz was born in 1970, clearly he is the Zodiac Killer from a previous life.
— Tim Nunley (@tnunley81) February 20, 2016
The belief was not held lightly, either — people were strongly convinced. Gawker points out that “an alarming number were not just suspicious, but confident that man with too much skin Ted Cruz was, in fact, the Zodiac Killer.”
NPR quickly did an analysis of where, exactly, this meme has come from.
It started with an internet joke in 2013, then really took off during a recent televised GOP debate. It seems a group of comedians decided to try to manipulate the “Trending Topics” box CBS was displaying on the screen.
Comedian Nathan LaMagna explains how it happened:
“I noticed… the Google Trends ticker along the bottom of the screen, kind of a way to make things more interactive. What are people Googling about the candidates? It was stuff like ‘How tall is Jeb Bush?’ Stuff like that. It was fluff, it was nonsense.
“It wasn’t going to help anybody get informed. But while I’m watching this, I’m like well if it’s showing what the Google Trends are, what’s to stop somebody from making that trend. So I put out kind of a call to action. I just tweeted out: ‘Hey everybody should Google ‘Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac killer?’ and see if we can hit the ticker on there.'”
Before La Magna’s friends could respond to his request, the funnyman photoshopped a screenshot of a CBS television screen to make it look like “Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer?” was trending. He then posted the doctored photograph, perhaps to see if he could convince anyone that the effort to make a mockery of the debate had succeeded.
— nate the great (@vrunt) February 14, 2016
La Magna didn’t even bother to make his photoshop look believable. He slipped in a cheeky “trend number three” to make this clear, while dissing his followers.
“I don’t even respect you enough to make this look real.”
La Magna’s friends responded with banter and returned his barb with some insults of their own.
What happened next was decisive: the meme took off. It took off despite La Magna’s effort to make it clear that it was a fake. The “Ted Cruz Is The Zodiac Killer” meme is an internet phenomenon that may, startlingly, now have power to influence public policy.
“Now there are t-shirts for sale, declaring that Cruz is the Zodiac killer. Proceeds from those sales have been going to a network of Texas clinics that provide abortions. (Ted Cruz opposes abortion.)”
“There’s a Ted Cruz/Zodiac killer romance book as well, for sale on Amazon. And most recently, Public Policy Polling asked in a survey whether it’s possible that Ted Cruz was the Zodiac killer.”
Some people have theorized about why the idea took off so spectacularly, with comedian Patrick Monahan reflecting that it probably went viral because “it builds on a general feeling that Cruz is creepy that has been building for a while.”
One of the weirdest things out of US presidential run is this Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer thing. It makes NO sense pic.twitter.com/4xiIo8IPAb
— nikkimaloo (@nikkimaloo) February 27, 2016
The man who started the trend, Nathan La Magna, reflected on the way that internet memes and the realms of satire and comedy are becoming enmeshed with the world of politics in new and interesting ways. The comedian believes that this is happening because politicians and the media now attempt to plug into social media and real-time activity as they flesh out their own stance and refine their self-presentation, as CBS tried to do with their trends ticker.
La Magna reflected that this will have some unexpected consequences, and we can expect to see more unusual phenomena in the future.
“You know, the more and more with the CBS Google Trends ticker, as you get the media and politicians trying to plug into this still new territory of social media, you’re only going to see more and more times when that kind of old-school thinking clashes with all sorts of new media. And all the different absurdists and satirists out there…. this is their domain that you’ve plugged into. And with it comes some sort of unintended consequences.”
[AP Photo/Chris Carlson]