In case you haven’t already heard, Barack Obama is your new bicycle. He also came to see your play, thought you could use some chocolate, fixed your car, wrote on your FunWall, remembered your birthday, built you a robot, and helped you move a sofa. So it is according to the Web site barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com, a campaign 2008 meme if ever there was, featuring about 40 phrases in simple, all-caps purple letters describing acts of benevolence and caring carried out by your close personal friend Barack Obama.
But what’s this about? A pro-Obama celebration? An argument for Obama as our ultimate wish-fulfiller, our new best friend? He’d unify the country and pick us up at the airport! He’d end the war in Iraq and laugh at our jokes!
Or is it a skewering of Barack fervor — a comment on the naïveté behind the feeling that he’s the vessel in which to pour our hopes? Turns out, none of the above, at least as intended by Mat Honan, a 35-year-old freelance writer and contributing editor for Wired, who created the site — which has had more than 2.3 million page views since it went live on February 13 — as a private joke with his wife.
“She’s a fanatic cyclist,” Honan explains over the phone from San Francisco. “It’s her main topic of conversation.” But then his wife got into the Obama campaign — she makes calls, gives money, held signs on Super Tuesday — and “now that’s what she talks about all the time.” Thus he kidded with her on a Saturday afternoon: Barack Obama is your new bicycle.
“I can’t tell you what people like about it,” says Honan, who admits to being an Obama supporter, though a less ardent one than his wife. “People have read it both ways,” he says. “Most see it as an Obama supporter site. But a lot of other people see it as a criticism. I didn’t intend it as either.”
In part, says Honan, he wanted to “make a joke about how passionate people are about him. Basically, I was just trying to make a toy that you click on and it would say funny things.”
The “. . . is your new bicycle” trope took off, and there’s since been knockoffs for John McCain (“. . . is not going anywhere”), Michelle Obama (“. . . unfroze you in freeze tag”), Ron Paul (“. . . glanced at your daughter’s chest”), and Hillary Clinton, whose taglines are perhaps most telling about the state of her campaign: “. . . hates This American Life,” “. . . is overusing emoticons,” “. . . owns a Zune,” “. . . secretly hates your new haircut,” “. . . left the dishes in the sink,” and “. . . is using your deodorant as an art supply.” Then there’s the ridiculously meta isyournewbicycle.com: “The ‘. . . is your new bicycle’ meme made an ASCII portrait of you”; “The ‘. . . is your new bicycle’ meme can has your cheezburger.”
“I assume in a week or two it’ll be like ‘don't tase me bro,’ ” says Honan. “We’ll be sick of it, and it’ll be done.” But he never expected it to take off the way it did. “I would’ve been surprised if 200 people looked at it. But all of a sudden the whole world showed up.”