Romney Vs. Big Bird: Why The Internet Blew Up

    October 4, 2012
    Amanda Crum

During last night’s presidential debate, Governor Mitt Romney made a small comment about Sesame Street character Big Bird that might have gone unnoticed, except for the millions of people watching who support educational television.

“I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said. “I like PBS. I like Big Bird. I like you, too.”

That last-second remark was aimed at moderator Jim Lehrer, who is employed by PBS. In an interview with Fortune, Romney recently said, “Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.”

As soon as Romney said the words, Twitter and just about every other social media site blew up, with people producing memes of Big Bird and the presidential candidate, posting angry tirades aimed at Romney, and generally freaking out. The reasons are varied, but what it boils down to is that what everyone essentially saw was Romney picking on the little guy. The guy who never did anything to anyone but provide kids with educational entertainment, which happens to include some of the beloved things that most of us grew up with, Big Bird included.

We’ll see how this affects his campaign, but for right now he doesn’t seem to be endearing himself to a rather large group of people. The Twitter blog was updated early this morning to announce that over 10 million people tweeted about the debate, making it the biggest political event for the social media site ever. And of course, they even mentioned the Big Bird comment.

Of course, the evening’s real breakout star was a certain tall yellow Muppet. There were more than a quarter million Tweets mentioning Big Bird, following Governor Romney’s statement that he wants to cut Federal funding for PBS, the Muppet characters’ TV channel, even despite his stated fondness for the Sesame Street character. Ardent supporters of Big Bird (and public broadcasting) took to Twitter to create parody accounts such as @SadBigBird, @BigBirdRomney and @FiredBigBird.