Since memes swept onto the digital landscape over a decade ago, our favorite, crudely photoshopped images have evolved from things you text your friends to make them laugh to the de facto medium for cultural criticism. So it’s only right that, in evaluating the past year - the good, the bad and the racist - we look to memes that defined 2018.
The term “meme,” though it sounds like a word plucked straight from early aughts vernacular, was actually coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, in the book The Selfish Gene. “Meme” is meant to embody the way ideas can spread like genes, replicating, evolving and entering public culture. Sometimes, the replication can get out of hand. Sometimes, the gene’s evolution is toxic.
But while memes are being increasingly used as political weapons, they’re also opportunities for us to take ownership over the media that inundates us constantly. In manipulating images, from screenshots of movie trailers to newly labeled stock photo images, we impose our own ideologies, our own frameworks, our own humor and our own opinions onto content. And suddenly, the media becomes more familiar. It becomes a little bit more “ours.”
11. “I just wanted to get another look at you”
Even before the mega-hit A Star Is Born hit theaters in early October, meme culture scooped up this chef’s kiss of a scene featuring a very sweaty Bradley Cooper leaning out of a car window — yelling “Hey!” — and a very smug Lady Gaga smiling knowingly. By replacing the dialogue, memologists parodied a host of scenarios, from the romaine-apocalypse to the number of times people re-watched A Star Is Born while crying alone in the theater.
10. The Change My Mind Sign
After conservative podcaster Steven Crowder posted up outside Texas Christian University this February, seated behind a table that read, “Male privilege is a myth. Change my mind,” the internet hungrily set to re-titling Crowder’s table with all sorts of philosophical challenges. Perhaps more than any other meme this year, Change My Mind captured the entitlement of “debate me” culture, which assumes that any one, at any time, must be willing to engage in bad-faith debates or otherwise admit being wrong.
9. “My Momma said”
Once a childhood photo of Cardi B began making the rounds this fall, it was only a matter of time before people began capitalizing on the now-iconic image of Young Belcalis staring bossily at the camera. How do succinctly roast someone? Tell ‘em your momma said to.
8. BBQ Becky
BBQ Becky was just one in a series of “white women calling the police over literally nothing” memes that have dominated the news cycle over the past several years. From BBQ Becky, which focused on a woman who called the police on a group of African-American people grilling in the park, to Permit Patty seen in the image above, the meme became a cathartic way to talk about issues like over-surveillance and police brutality.
7. “Is this a…”
In the original scene from a 1990s anime show The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, a humanoid character mistakenly identifies a butterfly as a pigeon. And in that spirit, one of very genuinely, very confidently identifying something incorrectly, the “Is this a…” meme served as a way to make fun of internet hyperbole.
6. He’s Not Your Man, He’s…
A good ol’ bait-n-switch, the “He’s not your man, he’s….” meme has dominated Twitter since September, with thousands of users gleefully listing characteristics that could pertain to a boyfriend or any number of people, places or things. As in the case of above twete about Brexit, it quickly emerged as a popular way to sum up current events which, like your shitty ex, are bad.
5. Tide Pods
Every few years, trend comes along that convinces adults that The Teens are in trouble, The Teens are hopeless, The Teens will be our downfall - and for Generation Z, their shining moment came in the form of tide pods. Arguably the darkest meme of 2018, the “The Tide POD Challenge,” invoked people across the internet to joke (kind of?) about desperately wanting to pop one of these colorful dishwasher detergent packets into their mouths. In a year marked by foreboding headlines, the Tide Pods meme captured the spirit of collective malaise.
4. “One taught me love…”
As soon as the world heard the first chorus of Ariana Grande’s already-iconic “thank u, next,” they raced to their computers to create their own triptych of exes. “One taught me love / one taught me patience / and one taught me pain” and Ariana taught me capitalize on those heartbreaks, hunneee.
3. Dancing Theresa May
When the embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May jerkily strode across the stage at United Kingdom’s Conservative Party Conference to, actually, truly ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” some felt her entrance perfectly encapsulated the confidence with which Western countries (and white people) entered into social situations, while others gleefully paired May’s dance with a host of new tracks.
2. Distracted Boyfriend
While this ~iconique~ stock photo from 2015 has been making the rounds as an object-labeling meme since 2017; our favorite versions of the “distracted boyfriend” only flourished this year, as he illustrated again and again that we love what’s bad for us, and forget for a second that what’s good for us ever even existed.
From his debut appearance as the new Philadelphia Flyers mascot — when he strode confidently across the ice, fell a bunch, and then hit a fan in the back with a t-shirt gun — the googly-eyed Good Boy has captured the hearts of America (and of Antifa, who has seemingly claimed him as one of their own). The Ringer’s Michael Baumann perhaps said it best when he wrote that Gritty was “a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time.”