I make dumb memes to numb my existential dread

'Internet exposure turned my brain into Swiss cheese and shaped my humor for the weirder'

One of my earliest memories is of a TV newscast on the night of 9/11. I was two years old when Congress impeached a president, and out of the corner of my eye as I write this, I’m watching a livestream of a public hearing in the potential impeachment of another.

I grew up during the collapse of the housing market, the Great Recession and the global war on terrorism. The first time I remember noticing the price of gas, it was pushing $5 a gallon. I stopped going to church a few months after Bear Stearns collapsed. (Coincidence, I swear.)

That’s the world I inherited. That’s my square one. How was I supposed to make sense of it? I did what everyone else did — I went online. At some point, I stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons and discovered the internet.

I also discovered that dumb memes and incredibly specific internet humor made me happy, so I started making my own. Part of it is just a hobby to make myself and my friends laugh, but it’s also a coping mechanism to numb the existential dread that comes with living in 2019.

I came of age online in the fever dream that was the mid-to-late 2000s and early 2010s, discovering already ancient parts of internet culture at the same time as new ones appeared: The Time Cube; Boxxy; the harmless innocence of the science side of Tumblr; 4chan memes; demotivational posters and rage comics and Scumbag Steve; and plenty more things that I don’t even want to talk to my therapist about, never mind see in my browser history ever again.

My Reddit account turned nine years old the day before I started writing this. My Twitter account is nearly old enough to start fifth grade. I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Neil Cicierega’s “Smooth.”

And because I discovered these insane things at a young enough age, internet exposure turned my brain into Swiss cheese and shaped my humor for the weirder. Those influences joined forces with the horrors of the outside world to make a pretty strong cocktail of absurdity. 

My chosen career path (photojournalism) destabilizes a little more every day. I’ll probably never own property. I have three different mental illnesses (exquisitely medicated, thanks for asking!). I had to learn to kill my heroes. The planet could be functionally dead by 2050 anyway. So when my creative juices get flowing, why not get a little weird with it?

That's why I make things that I think are funny: because they make me happy. I don’t even care whether anyone else thinks they’re funny. Most of the time, nobody does, and that’s fine. 

Sure, I’ve been desperately trying to go viral for months now because I have what I’ll charitably describe as a “complicated relationship with attention,” but mostly it’s for me. 

I just think it’s funny to say “Amy Sherman-Palladino” to the tune of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. I tweeted a Loss meme at 7:15 on a Tuesday morning because no one can stop me. Every day is a new horror, so just let me mash up “Margaritaville” with a track from “American Idiot” in peace.

I have to look for the humor in the awfulness. Everything I hear or say or see has the potential to turn into a bit (which probably makes me exhausting to be around). 

If you start a sentence with “It’s been” and hesitate even a single second, I absolutely will interject with “one week since you looked at me.” My friends and I will belt out the "Halo" theme song faster than you can say "Master Chief." 

I took extensive notes when I saw "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" just because I thought it was funny. I can't stop thinking about Waluigi. I latched on to "The Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw" in a borderline unhealthy way, because at the time it came out, it seemed like the only harmless fun in the whole world.

But I wouldn't have it any other way, because s--tposting feels good.

The world isn't getting any less bad any time soon, so it's only natural to crave that little drop of serotonin every time someone clicks the "like" button. And it's a way of spitting blood back into the face of your nightmares, cracking your neck and squaring up for another round.

There isn’t a playbook for how to be online. We’ve been collectively figuring it out on the fly every day for decades now. Everyone has their own comfort zone — and, hey, don’t go committing any crimes or anything —  but after a certain point, it’s Outback Steakhouse, baby, no rules, just right. 

And for me, sometimes “right” is logging on to Twitter at 2 a.m. to rant and rave about Riverdale, the finest show on American television.

My friends and I are part of a generation that was raised in the internet era despite not being born into it. We grew up in an online world that we didn’t ask for and didn’t create, but we’ve been pilloried for it as if we did.

So cut us some slack. We’re doing our best.

Sure, a Vine compilation can’t really cure my depression, but it can help me cope for a bit. Dark humor is a natural human reaction — we laugh to keep from crying. A good meme is not a miracle cure, but maybe it’s a hit of Novocain.

I’m not saying we should give up. We all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. But we can’t give a hundred percent of ourselves all the time.

So take a deep breath, and maybe use the flames engulfing our burning world to light your next cigarette. Flirt with your sleep paralysis demon. Alexa, play “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw.

When I got my wisdom teeth removed a couple years ago, the surgeon gave me two options: Most people choose to be sedated, he said, but it’s possible to be awake for the procedure. 

More often than not, living in my own mind feels like getting my teeth pulled regardless, so as long as the option is available, I'm gonna take the laughing gas every time.


Reach the reporter at bmoffat@asu.edu or follow @bmoffatphotos on Twitter. 

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