By Gaby Novoa
About and origin
The meme shows Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), deadlifting what appears to be a hefty amount of weight. Text reading “Head to toe health care” and “Climate action” labels the left and right barbell, making it appear as if Singh is lifting the words themselves. The labels reference pillars of the NDP’s election platform, which prioritizes expanding public health care and pharmacare, and posits a plan for the fight against the climate crisis.
Photographer Mark Blinch originally shot the image of Singh for a 2017 Maclean’s profile. The photo was then repurposed into the format of a “Label Meme,” otherwise known as “object labelling,” which is a practice applied to meme-making that gained popularity in the mid-2010s. However, the practice is much older than memes. Object labelling can be traced back to political cartoons that labelled elements of a photo to make a critique or commentary. Know Your Meme attributes the precursor for “object labelling” to Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die,” the first political cartoon to be published in the United States, in 1754.
Context and circulation
The meme was originally shared to “Leftist Memes for New Democrat Teens,” a public Facebook group that was especially active in creating and sharing memetic content surrounding the 2019 Canadian federal election. As of January 29, 2019,“Leftist Memes” has 7,047 members. During the campaign period, approximately 15 to 20 memes were posted daily, many of them original content created by members.
The Singh deadlift meme was posted on October 10, 2019, the day before advance polls opened and 11 days before Election Day. It was shared four times and received 68 reactions.
The Singh deadlift meme creates a visually memorable image that combines the promotion of two key aspects of the NDP platform with leader branding. According to Dan Schill, visual imagery is critical in constructing the political image of candidates and can significantly impact voter decisions. Memes that are created by party supporters may evoke a sense of authenticity as they are seemingly unaffiliated to the official campaign communications team, and thus such content may be more readily accepted by the public.
The formula of the deadlift meme doesn’t just outline NDP promises; it compels the viewer to believe that Singh has the power to implement these commitments. One of the most important functions of visuals in politics is that they have the capacity to be persuasive. Images of political candidates often “act as enthymemes, or implied arguments,” which situates the viewers as the ones who must draw conclusions about the politicians’ character and their capability of holding office. The deadlift meme does not explicitly argue that Singh will work tirelessly to invest in “head to toe healthcare” and execute “climate action.” Rather, it depicts Singh’s physical strength, which in turn implies strength of character. To be capable of lifting a great amount of weight takes time and training, as well as a high level of personal dedication, devotion and consistency – qualities that can now be assumed of Singh via this imagery alone. His commitment to his own health can offer voters confidence that he will be as committed to his role should he be elected prime minister.
Memes can serve the strategy of directing the viewers’ attention to a party’s platform, or agenda-setting. The photo is the hook, wherein once attention is captured, the message can follow. The Singh deadlift meme serves this function: the display of Singh’s strength piques interest, and the humorous element is added through the representation of two key pillars of his platform by the two barbells. Alex Marland asserts that branding “turns policy minutiae into easy-to-understand messages.” The Singh deadlift meme contributes to the NDP brand by offering a simplified overview of their policy commitments.
Deadlifting weights also adds a dramatic factor to the NDP’s brand and platform. Visual communication within politics “give[s] life to a policy and demonstrates its importance through pictures.” For Singh to stand behind a podium, in a suit, delivering a speech, would not have the same energetic intrigue of seeing him flex his muscles in what appears to be him literally hoisting up the policies. In this case, Singh is not verbalizing his commitment; he is demonstrating it in a great display of force. Epitomizing a message through imagery can thus offer dramatic appeal by setting a scene, representing characters, adding action and overall telling a story.
Memes are notable for their contribution to political branding in that they have the potential to facilitate greater understanding and awareness of party platforms, incorporate public perception and spark dialogue – all through an accessible and engaging medium. The Singh deadlift meme exemplifies how NDP branding and message control can be effectively reiterated by partisans who create original content that promotes the party message. Partisans who participate in political meme-making contribute to campaign trails from an unofficial position, which may be the very element that strengthens the party’s message and its reception.
 Dan Schill, “The Visual Image and the Political Image: A Review of Visual Communication Research in the Field of Political Communication,” Review of Communication 12, no. 2 (April 2012): 118-142.
 Ibid., 122.
 Marland, Alex. Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2016: 351.
 Schill, “The Visual Image,” 126.