By Michaela Armstrong
About and Origin
This meme is an instance of “They’re the Same Picture”, a two-panel meme template based on a reference from Season 7 of the TV show The Office. In the referenced episode, Creed, an employee at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company known for having criminal tendencies, has been appointed as acting manager of the branch. To keep him from making decisions detrimental to the company, the office manager, Pam, presents him with two pictures and pretends that corporate headquarters needs his help to find at least seven differences between the photos. The scene cuts to Pam who tells the camera that they are in fact the same picture. The top panel of the meme displays the two images that are presented to Creed, and the bottom one shows Pam looking directly at the camera.
Know Your Meme traces the origins of the meme to 2018. It started as a reaction meme and was used to imply that someone could not differentiate between two things. The meme evolved, with the current format first appearing on June 22, 2018 with a comparison of the game Fortnite and trash posted to /r/Meme/Economy, pictured below. This format has spawned wholesome memes, like the example below equating the viewer and perfection, as well as memes making jokes about popular culture, such as expressing dislike for Jenny from Forrest Gump.
Context and Circulation
By displaying side by side pictures of Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer, this meme draws a parallel between Canada’s past conservative Prime Minister and the most recent leader of the Conservative Party. The meme was located on the Instagram page of North99, a progressive group that opposes right wing media and posted anti-conservative and anti-Scheer content in the run-up to the Canadian federal election in 2019. North99 originally arose in response to Ontario Proud’s perceived successful lobbying for the Conservative party in Ontario’s 2018 election.
North99 posted this meme to their Instagram page on October 1, 2019 at 6:24 pm, accompanied by the caption of “What’s the difference?”. By implying that Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer are essentially the same, the makers of the meme try to remind their audience that there were good reasons why Harper was voted out of office four years prior and that it would be a mistake to elect Scheer, which would mean to go back to the past. The meme could also have functioned to detract attention from Trudeau’s Blackface scandal and refocus the attention of left-of-center voters on defeating the Conservative party.
As of December 9, 2019, the Instagram post had gained 215 likes and eight comments. Contrary to North99’s presumed aim, the meme was greeted mostly with reactions by conservative partisans. Users posted comments such as “I actually love this meme because I love them both” and “strong leadership as opposed to our current international embarrassment”, with the latter alluding to current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Like other images, memes can work as arguments by making associations or connections between ideas, or in this case, people. But images do not work on their own; for “They’re the Same Picture”, the meme relies on viewers’ knowledge of recent Canadian politics and the ability to identify Harper and Scheer to understand the joke (and, by extension, to understand the cultural reference to The Office). By combining well-known images and cultural references with new images and text, memes are able to present powerful political arguments. The captions of each panel in “They’re the Same Picture” imitate what the character was saying in the scene; this calls on viewers to imagine the text being verbally stated, adding another layer to the text-image combination. However, the conclusion meme-makers want viewers to draw from the meme are not always pre-defined: As the comment section of this particular meme shows, it was open for interpretation as some commentators viewed the implied similarities (or sameness) between Harper and Scheer as something positive, while non-conservative voters would interpret it as negative.
The “They’re the Same Picture” meme was not the first time Scheer and Harper have been compared, with North99 giving a new twist to a pre-existing argument. A common slogan throughout the election campaign was that Scheer was “Harper with a smile”. This slogan was embraced by both Scheer himself and by the Liberals. While Scheer intended to paint himself as Harper’s more friendly successor to gain the support of conservative voters who had previously supported Harper, the Liberals drew the connection to tell voters they shouldn’t let themselves be fooled by the smile, and that voting for Scheer would mean going back to the days of Harper. The use of this slogan for two different ends is akin to North99’s meme and the subsequent reactions to it, with viewers being able to interpret it in different, in fact opposite, ways.
 TinEye search results. Accessed December 11, 2019.
 Platt, Brian. “Ontario Proud, the right-wing Facebook giant in Ontario’s election, eyes federal election involvement”. National Post. June 4, 2018.
 Wherry, Aaron. “Champion of Diversity or High-Profile Hypocrite? Who Is Justin Trudeau, Anyway?”. CBC, September 21, 2019.
 North99. “What’s the Difference? #cdnpoli #onpoli #polcan #elxn43 #canlab #canadamemes #canadianmemes”. Instagram, October 1, 2019, 18:24.
 Schill, Dan. “The Visual Image and the Political Image: A Review of Visual Communication Research in the Field of Political Communication”. The Review of Communication 12, no. 2 (April 2012): 118–42.
 Wherry, Aaron. “On Policy, Scheer’s Conservatives Haven’t Changed Much since 2015”. CBC, June 26, 2019.