Art is not merely an imitation of the reality of nature, but in truth a metaphysical supplement to the reality of nature, placed alongside thereof for its conquest. — Frederick Neitzche
Y’all. It won’t stop getting amazing! — Chewbacca Mom
But that was inevitable, right? Memes have rapidly become such ubiquitous pieces of popular culture that it should come to no surprise that this year, the floodgates have opened. Now, our grandmothers are saying “Oh shit waddup?” to us, and my uncle told me that I was “back at it with the black Vans” (a true-to-life meme remix) when I visited with family earlier this fall.
Thanks to social media, memes are now as common in the marketplace of ideas as pop-culture catchphrases and the “That’s what she said”s of modern lexicon. Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace it.
Why have memes passed this threshold? Do image macros now speak to civilization the same way the grand frescos of Michelangelo or the challenging works of Picasso once have? Will memes be our own Arcades of Paris? This is yet to be determined.
Memes go beyond touching points of relatability, as successful meme curators like Elliot Tebele and Josh Ostrovsky will always argue for. The merits of a truly successful meme extend beyond organic reach and the “same” reactions it elicits. They speak to our collective consciousness and double as a litmus test for society.
These are the memes that captured where we are and where we’re headed throughout 2016, a year fraught with tension and anxiety.
(Note: Harambe is not featured on this list. I’m sorry.)
Waiter: "checks together or separate?"
— Cozy Ted Is 6'3 (@Teddybeaar_) July 28, 2016
The alpha and omega. In a time of ceaseless, unyielding frustration, disappointment and fear for the future, Arthur’s balled first speaks volumes to our shared experience. We are all Arthur and his fist.
Don’t Talk to Me or My Son Ever Again
Don't talk to me or my son ever again pic.twitter.com/5Jwz3o6Xex
— Blake (@M_Bulldog12) June 16, 2016
Consider Don’t Talk to Me or My Son Ever Again in exercise in creativity and matching. It’s a simple meme. When applying context to a pair, subject assumes form. And in this example, form is a parent and son.
Who is dat boi? Why is he riding a unicycle? Where did he come from and where has he arrived? Dat boi makes this list for the many questions his very existence raises. Is dat boi the first breakthrough dank meme (an anti-meme)? It certainly has far more in common with contemporary conceptual art than the LOLcats of yesteryear. Are our memes becoming more challenging? I dunno. I love dat boi.
The 2007 animated comedy Bee Movie, starring Jerry Seinfeld, is atrocious, but Bee Movie lives on as a subject ripe for abstract and bizarre memes. Dissecting form and structure has become the latest trend in Bee Movie memes, as the video above illustrates. I’m truly excited to see what new life Bee Movie memes take hold of in the new year, because I do not imagine this dying down anytime soon. God bless these weirdo meme creators.
*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame*
Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. pic.twitter.com/TXU6T6iM3B
— ben ???? (@a7xweeman) August 15, 2016
Just a perfect, powerful concept and execution. This makes the list for its artistry and expertise. Bravo. We will all likely be wondering how we ended in this situation in the near future.
Bernie or Hillary?
important issues for me pic.twitter.com/LYbEwIXovk
— Your Soft Aunt (@Spurksploodge) January 28, 2016
Shades of misogyny aside, this endlessly remixed Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton issue explainer was the perfect storm in late winter 2016—a hotbed for primary election jokes—for a successful meme. Its structure allows for landing the same punchline (positing Sanders’s wholesome idealism against Clinton’s pandering ignorance) through a filter of surrealist creativity.
This is by far my favorite Obama Biden meme that I've seen ???? pic.twitter.com/4wtIJoUSdD
— Sarah Lyons (@SarahSlyons) November 15, 2016
Vice President Biden is our literal boy. This meme, birthed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, posits Biden as highly defensive of the White House, his buddy Barack, and the nation’s public social policy amid a new and scary impending administration. This is the Joe Biden we all take liberties to characterize. So in a way, doesn’t that mean the meme version of Biden is more real? Are we going into all that?
A friend sent me this. Apparently I made the cut as one of the Deplorables???????????? All kidding aside I am honored to be grouped with the hard working men and women of this great nation that have supported @realdonaldtrump and know that he can fix the mess created by politicians in Washington. He's fighting for you and won't ever quit. Thanks for your trust! #trump2016 #maga #makeamericagreatagain #basketofdeplorables
Pepe has existed for a long time and makes this list for it sheer significance as an adopted mascot for white supremacism and the laughably named “alt-right”. Pepe is an excellent lesson in how a powerful character can be mutated and given a new purpose, one that its creator has never intended.
Me: everything's going good. love my man
Me: go thru his phone pic.twitter.com/u7oWD1Iqrc
— rougedouxx (@rougeDouxx) November 14, 2016
I feel my own Evil Kermit every day of my life. So does everyone. What better way to represent your id than through pop culture’s greatest meme avatar? “Indulge your vices,” he says. “Create a little chaos.” It’s a major burden for one frog to uphold. Evil Kermit will be one of this year’s finest treasures.
Name a More Iconic Duo
Name a more iconic duo.. I'll wait pic.twitter.com/DSeuruwigC
— Jordan Rutecki (@flacko_jordye) September 28, 2016
— Marc Snitzer (@snitztopia) September 28, 2016
The ultimate troll.
When you just wake up from a nap and your parents already yelling at you pic.twitter.com/ksf0Sbop8P
— keyboard warrior (@isthatahmed) February 1, 2016
Instant relatability. Radial blur captures far more about a shared human experience than words can. Not much else to say about this one. Just a perfect meme.
If anything can drag me out of my own cynicism and despair, it’s these kids, whose genuine good will and positive intentions have helped create 2016’s best meme. Back at it, indeed.
Honorable Mentions: Primitive Sponge, “What Are Those?”, Michael Phelps, J Cole, Ken Bone, Drake, Get You A Man Who Can Do Both, Crying Jordan, honestly so many more that I cannot even begin to list them here.