Saturday, January 23, 2021

Memes and Me

 Like many, I watched Joe and Kamala's inauguration with a sense of relief and gratitude. I have no intention of writing the name of the previous occupant of the White House ever again, lest typing the letters somehow conjure it up out of the obscurity to which it has thankfully, finally, been consigned. 

I was very concerned -- as were many -- that we were going to see a repeat of January 6th, on a grander, bloodier scale. As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about: the promised hordes of white supremacists, Proud Boys, Three Percenters and QAnon crazies didn't even bother to show up.  The right-wing safe spaces, before they were taken down, teemed with calls to 'release the Kraken' and 'bring the storm' at fifty state capitals countrywide. I saw in Michigan one lonely incel attended. 

They haven't gone away. But they've been quieted, and it does my heart a world of good to see that. After four years of daily outrage, the temperature has temporarily been turned down to tepid. 

And the surest way to understand the deep sea change that has come over American politics is to observe Bernie in his chair. 

I saw him at the inauguration.  I even recognized him, which is highly unusual for me. I feel the need to explain this at some length, because it's one major way I differ from humans, especially those humans who identify as male. 

Men are visual creatures -- I have heard that my whole life long. My eyes are beyond poor, so maybe that's why I'm not...but I actually think it's something in my mind. If I'm never going to meet you, I see no reason why I should memorize your physical appearance (which is the least important thing about you, after all). You would be stunned at the celebrities I can't recognize from pictures alone...damn near all of them. And although I am a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I can guarantee you I wouldn't recognize a single Leaf player out of uniform. Not one. 

But I recognized Bernie Sanders. 

To be fair, I was watching the New York Times livestream of the day,  asking myself is that Bernie when one of the reporters confirmed it in the chat immediately to the right of the stream. I felt a stab of pride -- hey, wow, got that one right! -- and then promptly forgot about Bernie Sanders for most of the rest of the day. 

Most of the rest of the day. That night, as anybody with a Facebook account could attest, Bernie Sanders and his chair were suddenly...EVERYWHERE. I can not stress enough how quickly he proliferated. I found out later somebody had created a site at 8:30 p.m. that allowed you to insert Bernie into any Google Street View...and by 9, half an hour later, the site had crashed from sheer volume.

I simply can not fathom this. Any of it.

Please understand that I have nothing against Bernie Sanders. He's an older Jack Layton, and Jack Layton is the only politician I have ever voted for, as opposed to voting against someone. He's one of exactly four U.S. politicians I recognize on sight...Biden, Harris and AOC being the others. (In case you're wondering, Trudeau and Ford are the only two Canadian politicians I recognize -- like I say, physical appearance is just a black hole for me.)

So when Bernie and his chair showed up in my Facebook feed the first time, I stared at him for awhile, trying to figure out why Bernie Sanders was...wherever he was. I seriously don't recall where I saw him first, because I think I saw thirty iterations of him in less than thirty minutes. I was puzzled to the point of extreme irritation:  why are people doing this? what is going on here? And I asked, because I am not afraid of looking stupid. The answers weren't helpful. Because he's real. And adorable.  Because while everyone else maintained an aura of decorum, he sat there big as Billy-be-damned with those kitschy mittens and homespun BERNIENESS and I'm like that's nice and I even agree with it but it doesn't even start to explain why he's all over the internet in the space of half an hour!

Yesterday was peak Bernie. I saw him on the bridge of the starship Enterprise; on Mars; hanging upside down from a branch with a few birds on either side doing the same; sitting in Sheldon's "spot" on The Big Bang Theory set (I shared that one, it tickled me)....and in pictures of seemingly every waterfall in Ontario, thanks to the Waterfalls of Ontario group I'm part of. Many, many other places besides. It's down to a dull roar now, which is kind of nice, honestly. Until the next meme springs up out of nowhere.

Honestly, where do these things come from, and how do they spread so damned fast? It's like some kind of collective mass hysteria, much, much more contagious than any virus. This is far from the first time I've wondered this, of course. I think the first time would have been the Paris Hilton sex tape. I wouldn't be able to tell Paris Hilton apart from the Hilton in Paris...I certainly have no interest in watching her have sex....but for a while back in the day it was just another open secret to which I was the only one not privy.  I get it, I'm an Old Fart...but Jesus, does the internet have a way of rubbing it IN MY FACE.

I share a lot of memes on Facebook, especially if they're punny. But I've never, ever seen a meme explode quite so dramatically, and I still have no idea why.

But you know something? "Why" doesn't matter, because this is the first meme in four years that didn't feel like a salvo in a culture war. This was just people having fun. Fun, remember when the internet was fun? Bernie Sanders remembers. This is a sign: a sign that we just might be getting back to some semblance of normality after five years of daily chaos. I've given up asking questions. Let 'em have their fun. But in the back of my mind, I will always wonder how I spend my life online and still miss everything.

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