Summer Memes

This micro essay from 2019 is the first in a series I am working on that addresses contemporary social issues as well as internet phenomena.

Image from Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug, & Mason Ramsey/Old Town Road (Area 51 Video)

For the past few summers, a meme has come along like a fever dream to sum up the desires of the collective subconscious. Once upon a time there were songs of the summer, blockbusters of the summer, and now there are memes. They can seem random, but closer analysis reveals a profound significance behind those that manage to capture attention. It occurred to me yesterday that the Area 51 meme could be a metaphor for the humanitarian crisis at the border. A frustrated public has concocted a fantasy of going to the migrant camps and actually being able to do something: In Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” remix from July 16th, he’s joined by Keanu Reeves on a raid of the classified facility. The symbolism is complex, weaving Old Town Road’s narrative of a queer person of color taking on traditional American stereotypes to Keanu Reeves’ current status as Emblem of Virtue, this moment’s “respectful king.”

2019’s meme of the summer has me considering 2018’s. When Big Dick Energy happened, our fascination with a dork like Pete Davidson (love him btw) getting engaged to Ariana Grande was only one piece of the puzzle. I think that beyond this there was the yearning to see a manifestation of some kind of Positive Masculinity. After so much talk of toxicity and destructive patriarchal forces, the Internet rebelled in a celebration of phallic confidence.

Memes are more than online jokes. They are collective nighttime dreams made visible; a form of wish fulfillment achieved on a mass level. They are surreal, they are silly, and they are healing.