Even more than most other years, 2020 has been a time when we’ve experienced events through meme culture. Having spent almost half of the year to this point either indoors or worrying about whether we should be indoors, the glut of despairing jokes, coronavirus memes and Dominic Cummings tweetstorms have been incredibly comforting, even when they’ve been pressing on some miserable and infuriating moments.
The strange warping and flexing flow of time since about mid-March generally gets put down to lockdown, the stress of living through a pandemic and the overriding sense that we’ve been monkey-barring our way from one day to the next. But perhaps the realisation that, say, Olly Murs’s horrendous prank with the Pringles tube only happened in the middle of May, is jarring for reasons other than the fact that you’ve not been to the pub in three months.
We’ve been living more intensely online, and while the amount of online stuff that’s happened has probably been only a bit higher than normal, the offline stuff that counteracts it and helps you actually parcel out the chunks of your life in a meaningful way hasn’t been there as balance. The memes have been the real staging posts of the last three months.
These are the best we’ve seen so far this year.
The pubs are back
In the run up to what was, with thunderingly crassness, billed as ‘Super Saturday’, the tension was palpable. On the one hand: joy that pubs might have a chance to avoid being shut down and turned into flats by predatory developers, and that staff could get paid properly again; on the other, worries that by getting involved you were helping launch a second spike of the coronavirus and helping the government pretend everything is absolutely fine again. Bring those hands together, and you get some searingly hot memes.
Jo March, who simply cannot
The emotional climax of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation found a second life as a means of expressing all those things which you wish you could stop yourself doing but, as Jo tells Laurie when he tries throwing some matrimony at her, you simply can’t despite your best efforts.
Sue Sylvester’s toxic environment
No, we didn’t have Glee’s return to cultural prominence down in the great 2020 sweepstakes either, but here we are, crudely editing the words of an intensely awful PE teacher for a laugh.
sue sylvester returning to stan twitter consciousness is the only good thing that’s happened in 2020 so far pic.twitter.com/lqj0Oo2az9
— cat | watch dark on netflix (@jimintheternal) July 5, 2020
The first wave was a tidy little recontextualising gag, but the second and third pushed it into a more agreeably DIY, MS Paint vibe with more remixing potential. Things have since got a bit out of hand.
Remixing the BBC News theme
Given how much of this year’s been spent in a paralysing state of oh-Christ-what-is-it-now-ness, it feels a little bit improper to pick up the news purely through push notifications. There’s been quite a few moments where you wanted to be watching the actual news on the actual TV, just so it feels a bit more real. One of the pleasant side-effects is a renewed appreciation for the BBC News theme, which is an absolute banger. The biggest hit was this mash-up of the theme and Dua Lipa’s ‘Hallucinate’ from her new album.
Other reinterpretations included BBC weatherman Owain Wyn Evans drumming along, and many, many TikTok remixes.
The cruel economics of Animal Crossing
Times are tough over on this godforsaken rock. Turnip prices are all over the place. Tom Nook has had it up to here with your excuses and bartering So what do you do? You do what you need to do to survive.
The return of the pub
Three months since they closed, pubs are back. But what should have been a joyous moment is coloured by doubt. It’s good to support local businesses and beleaguered licensees, but you just know you’re going to forget which way the one-way system goes or walk straight into a plexiglass screen on your way to the toilet. It doesn’t feel safe, and it probably isn’t going to feel much like the pub either. It’s a moral maze. And that’s before you get onto finding a conscionable position on heading back to Wetherspoons.
The Marriage Story fight
A close cousin of the American Chopper fight meme from back in the misty days of 2018, the one where Paul Teutul Jr and Paul Teutul Sr gradually build up their bickering until they’re launching tables and chairs at each other, the Marriage Story fight is subtly different. For one thing, it’s a lot shorter. For another, It pivots on Adam Driver absolutely flipping his shit. It’s petulance incarnate.
Gen Z vs. Millennials
Saying ‘doggo’, doing Buzzfeed quizzes, clinging to the Harry Potter universe as both a lucky mascot in an unfeeling world and a moral compass: as lockdown dragged on, Gen Z started roasting Millennials on TikTok. It’s more of an American thing than a British thing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still sting for those of us approaching cultural obsolescence. Then again, it could be a co-ordinated pincer movement from Gen Alpha and the Boomers.
Nature is healing
First, the fish came back to Venice. Then some goats started rampaging through Llandudno. Then Twitter started spotting even more natural phenomena which the lockdown – and the subsequent almost complete lack of humanity outside which accompanied it – had allowed to return to their natural rhythms.
We never did hear anything else about the Llandudno goats, come to think of it. Presumably at this point they’ve set up a breakaway senedd and are conducting preliminary diplomatic discussions with the human Welsh parliament.
Imagine one day having this train map
In June, a map showing the entire world joined together in one gigantic railway network popped up on Twitter.
It was meant to be, explained the author of the 2007 book that it first appeared in, a playful way of mapping all the cities with light rail systems rather than an actual proposal for commuters from Nottingham to Tehran. That didn’t stop Twitter taking the piss.
Bob Mortimer’s been doing pencil case imagineer and business guru Train Guy in various guises for a while on the Athletico Mince podcast, but its only this year that he’s really gone overground. (Not that Train Guy would travel on the Overground; he’s a first class lounge regular on Virgin West Coast.) Don’t know Train Guy? You’ll have sat next to him at some point. We’ve got some more Train Guy thoughts here too, as it happens. Have a campachoochoo on us. There’s also a soundboard now.
‘My Plans / 2020’
The definitive meme of this harrowing new decade. Gather up all your hopes, your dreams and your wishes and dump them into the biggest bin you can find. It’s 2020, baby!
Don’t bother trying to volte face on an issue and hoping that Twitter won’t notice. This simple, shatteringly effective tap-on-the-shoulder was most devastatingly deployed by comedian Lolly Adefope in response to David Walliams’ tweets about Black Lives Matter.
A few days later, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me were yanked off Netflix. Coincidence?
Just as lockdown started to bite, a bid for freedom by an African grey parrot called Chanel obsessed Twitter. (Chanel’s full name, we found out later, was Chanel Chanelington.) The bird’s distraught ma, Sandra, did the only thing most of us would think to do in that situation: she went outside and shouted her bird’s name repeatedly.
Why had Chanel just flown away out of the garden? What was it about life in suburban Liverpool that had apparently led her to snap? Would she ever return? All we knew was that she’d headed off towards the canal. Obviously this was absolute dynamite material.
Chanel the parrot did turn up in the end and Sandra got to go on This Morning, so all’s well that ends well.
To Grimes and Elon Musk, a child: X Æ A-Xii
At this stage of proceedings – after the ‘pedo guy’ debacle, and that time Musk pulled a “well, actually” on Grimes hours after she’d had surgery, and the episode where Azealia Banks was apparently trapped in their house – an ain’t-Elon-Musk-and-Grimes-whacky meme should barely make a dent. And yet here we are, still goggling at the fact that they dropped a calculator on the floor and transcribed the display onto a birth certificate.
TikTok Versus Politics
Miming along with political speeches and interviews has become a boom industry in the last couple of months. The UK’s undoubted queen is Meggie Foster.
And over in America, it’s Sarah Cooper.
The ‘I Am A Free I Am Not Man A Number’ Meme
A deeply bathetic protest on the Mall by a lot of very ruddy freedom-fighters, who wanted to go to the pub and cough on each other, gave us this, a head-scrambling rendering of Patrick McGoohan’s line from The Prisoner.
The ‘Wash Your Lyrics’ Meme
The overture before the full symphonic beauty of the memes of lockdown, this was the first big hit of the coronavirus period. We were told to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while scrubbing our mitts to make sure we did them properly. The internet had some other suggestions: Rage Against the Machine, the Sex Pistols, and Neil Kinnock at the 1985 Labour Party Conference.
Brendan O’Neill’s Gigantic Forehead
When he’s not wandering around bumping into truly awful opinions, the columnist and professional wind-up merchant is occasionally invited onto TV programmes to talk about current affairs and prove there are bad takes to be mined even beneath the bottom of the barrel. Twitter has taken to hitting him where it hurts: right in the massive forehead.
The ‘LinkedIn / Facebook / Instagram / Tinder’ Meme
This one probably didn’t start with Dolly Parton herself, but by God, she gave it an almighty shot in the arm. The different hats we wear on the social media platforms that our parents’ generation have heard of are pretty daft, aren’t they.
The Coronavirus Briefings
That goddamn ‘rony has at least necessitated the creation of the daily briefings, which have proved fertile memeing grounds. Regular targets have included the vague graphs, the revolving cast of unknown junior ministers stepping in when things get too hot, and the rapidly escalating sense that nobody knows what’s going on.
Dominic Cummings’s Eye Test Grand Prix
Boris Johnson’s talismanic advisor decided that the best way to deal with both himself and his wife developing coronavirus symptoms was to ignore the direction to isolate for two weeks and drive 260 miles north to Durham. Cummings’s line that he only drove to the nearby town of Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was one for the ages. The Cummings memes made the whole sordid business even funnier.
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