If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, adding a “Mc” and a “face” to a word and making a last name out of it isn’t wit at all. It’s something else entirely, the sort of low-effort absurdism that makes the internet go round and round and round. Is Boaty McBoatface funny? Not without context. The “Namey McNameface” meme really only works where serious intent collides with nihilistic good humor. It’s neither a joke nor an anti-joke: It’s farce in 16 characters.
The McNameface phenomena warrants scrutiny because it’s such a perfect distillation of what the internet is and what the internet — or the people that make the internet the internet — wants. It’s uber-formulaic, which makes it replicable and functional across cultures. It’s sophomoric, which means one can take it in a NSFW direction. And it’s self-referential, which means it becomes a sort of reference library devoted to itself and the structure of a joke emerges from sheer repetition.
Go ahead and pop a name into Google using the “[insert word]-y Mc-[insert word]-face” formula, and I’ll bet you you find at least a handful of results. As it turns out, “Punchy McAssface Jr.” is a regular contributor to Urban Dictionary. “Poopy McPoopface” has a reasonably popular LinkedIn profile. There are multiple Jerky McJerkface’s on just about every social media site. And Douchey McDoucheface, thanks to Reddit, surfaces images of a specific Jeopardy! contestant with a “punchable” mug.
The “Something McSomethingface” names have proliferated lately because of the successful Boaty McBoatface campaign. It was, admittedly, the perfect troll: a harmless joke using an overplayed meme that forced “serious” people to comment on something incredibly dumb. Watching Science Minister Jo Johnson (talk about a punchable face) squirm as people asked him about the christening of a research vessel was hilarious.
However, there is more to the internet than just a bunch of Trolly McTrollfaces: Every now and again, even the most tired internet memes can be harnessed for some pretty good shit. When George Zimmerman attempted to auction off the gun he used to kill unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, an internet hero named “Racist McShootface” bid until the price was jacked up to $65 million dollars. Somewhat dissimilarly, a pup re-named Doggie McDogface was quickly adopted. The innocence of the formulation makes it good for all purposes. It makes dogs seems sweeter and dangerous racists seem impotent and alone.
But is Boaty McBoatface substantively different from Condescending Wonka or Crying Jordan? Only in that it’s a more flexible meme. No photo is required. As such, it can find its way into almost every nook and cranny on the internet. It serves, one might argue, as the pithiest sort of editorial, doing something akin to what most journalists are taught to do: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The turn of phrase subverts the sober and sobers the subversive.
That is, from a literary standpoint, an impressive achievement. Not bad for the work of a bunch of Fucky McFuckfaces.