Memes of the year: The 2019 version of the internet
From Ok Boomer to Wagatha Christie, here are this year’s Memes de la Crème
Depending on what way you look at it, the 2019 version of the internet was either a steaming hot mess of confusion and catastrophe, or an explosion of noteworthy happenings that made each day’s idle hours slightly less inert. With each event came a flurry of comments, memes, jokes, in-jokes, and jokes-within-jokes that might be slightly alienating to anyone who had the poor sense to step away from their devices for longer than twenty five minutes.
So, let’s stick on our web goggles and grasp a digital guide-rope, as we wade through the year’s more puzzling profusions and explore 2019’s Memes de la Crème.
Some slurs are slow to take on the negative association for which they soon become taboo - as anyone who has winced through a well-meaning parent’s flattery toward someone of another culture will be all too aware. Now, it seems, those elders are attempting to get their own back, responding with fury to one of 2019’s most striking neologisms and declaring it a slur before it’s even got its boots on. “Ok boomer” has emerged as a pat response by millennials and their Gen Z successors, whenever an older person says something cranky, or slightly scolding.
To the boomers in question, this reeks of age-based hatred, whereas for their younger interlocutors it’s merely a response to the near constant flurry of youth-baiting articles attacking their generation for being incapable of taking offence; blaming their idleness and vanity for everything from an inability to own a home, to their lack of interest in buying diamonds.
Unable to convince said elders that the conditions they describe are not merely not their own fault, but very much the consequence of boomers’ actions themselves, millennials have reverted to ending interactions with this one perfectly dismissive two-word phrase, so as to test just how immune to gentle offence their more implacable elders actually are. The histrionic responses from said boomers to this “slur”, perhaps offers an answer on that latter question.
30-50 Feral Hogs
If you were puzzled by the brief period in August where seemingly every single Twitter account on Earth was quoting some version of the phrase “30-50 feral hogs” then I can sympathise. Rarely has such a strangely sequenced string of words taken on such cachet within the zeitgeist, so some explanation is in order.
When Nashville country musician Jason Isbell sounded a reasonable note against assault weapons in private hands, he received many furious responses from fans and non-fans alike, arguing his position was contrary to their rights as Americans. None of these garnered more attention than Willie McNabb who responded “Legit question for rural Americans - How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?”.
It can sometimes be hard to quantify exactly why or how a meme acquires that deliciously necessary memeworthiness that tips it into being a phenomenon, but some combination of its outlandish premise, its specificity, and its outwardly reasonable utterance, made it one of the strangest, and most inescapable memes of 2019.
Thousands later, perhaps no remix of the original ever matched it for strangeness, although a high commendation must be reserved for @thedanstringer for his marvellous effort; “take me down to the paradise city where the hogs are feral and there’s 30-50”.
The Momo Challenge
Former generations had chain letters, nowadays we have concern trolling fear campaigns, and none this year was as weirdly, dumbly effective as The Momo Challenge. “Momo” herself was an image of a girl with a creepy, fixed smile, said to be in circulation among children, its arrival prompting them to do acts of violence or self-harm.
The challenge had reportedly led to injuries and even suicides. Of course, none of this was remotely true, and it was exactly the same kind of viral hoax aimed at scaring parents that their children were downloading audible drugs. Unfortunately, it was picked up by supposedly serious newspapers including The Irish Times and the BBC, and dozens of school districts issued letters to parents “warning” them of the challenge, meaning children were being warned about self-harm and suicide, warnings which paradoxically traumatised and scared them for no reason.
The Momo hoax was a depressing reminder that the public deserve better from their schools and police when it comes to assessing threats, real and imagined, and a cautionary tale for adults; when you counsel children to be careful online, make sure you’re not showing yourself to be every bit as naiive as you presume your subjects to be.
“This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it......” began a social media post which this year brought more joy, more deliciously addictive schadenfreude than any other; the bombshell since dubbed Wagatha Christie by denizens of Instagram, Twitter and the wider internet universe.
If, by some mystery of circumstance you managed to avoid the genesis of said event, the gist is this: Colleen Rooney, noted WAG (an acronym for the ‘wives and girlfriends’ of famous footballers) had noticed stories about her were being leaked to the press, so set up a sting whereby she would seed fake stories to various people and see which were passed on. By so doing she deduced that fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy was the culprit, and laid her conclusions bare in a post so dripping with tension and drama it could have been scored by Hans Zimmer.
Her final punch of “It’s ……….Rebekah Vardy’s account” has now passed into internet lore, and been replicated in endless iterations comparing her to the world’s greatest detectives, or masters of the pregnant pause from John Cage to Dermot O’Leary.
“Coleen’s Vardy statement should be taught in English Lit classes,” wrote Daniel Austin. “It sets the scene intriguingly, shifts seamlessly to the hero character’s plan, and that final line where the culprit is named via ellipsis is some of the punchiest writing I’ve read”.
Angry Woman V Cat
If some of the entries on this list are, more or less, explicable within a few sentences, one fears the oft-repeated meme in which an angry woman screams at a cat might require a little more shoe leather, so here goes nothing.
In 2011, Real Housewife of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong has an argument with another cast-member, spawning the now widely disseminated image of a screaming blonde, being held back by companions. In 2019, a separate image of a bemused looking white cat sat at a fancy restaurant was uploaded to Tumblr alongside the caption “he no like vegetals”. It was only in June of this year that the two images were paired together, creating the sort of spun gold that only happens once in a blue moon. It quickly became shorthand for mismatched angers, vitriolic reactions, and the sort of one-sided, histrionic and bewildering arguments so common on the internet.
It also had its use for other, more literal interactions, such as, “Me accusing my cat of cuddling with other people when I come home after bottomless brunch”. Even in 2019, sometimes a cat meme, is just a cat meme.