The Meaning Behind the #UnwantedIvanka Meme

Ivanka Trump has become an ironic internet Carmen Sandiego. She’s popped up in The Last Supper, at the Yalta Conference alongside Winston Churchill, in the opening credits of Friends, on the Abbey Road album cover, on Mount Rushmore. Sometimes, like when she’s photobombing Dust Bowl migrants, she’s flashing a big cheesy grin. Other times, like at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing in, she’s more of a pensive onlooker. She is always amusing, always awkward—and always unwanted.

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The people of Twitter have been Photoshopping Ivanka Trump into images of historical import since she attended the G20 summit in Japan last weekend as part of her father’s delegation. The trend started after BBC journalist Parham Ghobadi tweeted a video showing Trump’s attempts to network with world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Teresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde. In the clip, the first daughter looks less welcome than a geek at the cool-kid table, and less than 24 hours after it made the rounds, writer Erin Ryan kicked off the #UnwantedIvanka meme by asking the internet to place Trump into other scenes, like soccer player Megan Rapinoe’s goal celebration and Beyoncé’s Coachella performance. The internet, in turn, gleefully obliged.

Since then, #UnwantedIvanka has spread across all of time and space, from Ancient Egypt to the Moon landing to Elliot’s bike basket in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But not everyone is laughing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the moment to point out that “being someone’s daughter actually isn’t a career qualification.” Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders vehemently disagreed with that take, saying the president and his daughter “continue to make the US stronger on the global stage.” The least expected meme participant was Iran’s Press TV, which, in a criticized tweet, seemed to suggest that Trump was out of place because world leaders were ogling her, which struck some as sexist.

Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of Internet culture for WIRED.

Bizarre Photoshops of the first family are typically more internet game than political commentary. When President Obama’s daughters attended their first state dinner in 2016, a photographer snapped a photo of Sasha chatting with Ryan Reynolds while Malia flashed her a thumbs up in the background. This too became a meme, but it didn’t really mean anything besides … thumbs up. Ditto President George W. Bush struggling with a poncho at President Trump’s inauguration. The people involved were political figures, but the meme only conveyed derpy dishevelment. #UnwantedIvanka doesn’t work like that.

If you try to find meaning in individual #UnwantedIvanka memes, you’ll be disappointed. The joke is always “one of these things is not like the others.” But there is something to be gleaned from the broader oeuvre of memes around Ivanka Trump. Just about every one the internet has come up with—Trump gazing longingly at Trudeau at the White House, Trump’s expression while meeting the Pope, Trump coming to the Capitol to exchange an awkward hug with Senator Marco Rubio—could have been an #UnwantedIvanka meme. They all look sideways at her place on the world stage. Many times, private citizens and the press have questioned whether Trump’s role in the White House is appropriate. Many times, President Trump has insisted on her competence and qualifications, no matter what. Objections from pundits have proved fruitless.

President Trump is the one copy-pasting his daughter into history. Twitter’s just joining in.

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