Meme? Like, Mim? Or is it like Meh-Meh? Oh, I know! Me-me! Hmm, meme? Like theme? Okay sure, I’ll write an article about that.
The above was my reaction when I was asked to write about memes for a Columbia journal my sophomore year. You can look up the article if you’d like. I honestly don’t have the wherewithal and self-confidence to revisit it. I promise it’s not good. Actually, don’t look it up. I don’t want you losing faith in me.
Okay, now that you’re back from BETRAYING MY TRUST, I want to explain how my appreciation and understanding of memes has completely changed. They’re a huge part of my life, now. I only recently stopped scrolling through multiple Instagram humor accounts before bed because I have a complete lack of self-control and was starting to stay up really late because of it. I always laugh at the jokes and pass them on ad nauseam, but I never really think about the people – and hand puppets – captured in those pictures and screenshots. Were they chosen at random? Were the pictures posed for? I honestly didn’t care… until it happened to me.
So, peep this: I wake up one summer day ready to face a completely empty schedule. I know to most people this sounds like the dream. It’s summer and you have nothing at all to do! You should be rejoicing, Karen! Well – I wasn’t. I have a very obsessive personality that requires I be constantly busy or being made to feel useful. Three task-free weeks between school and work were hell for me. Let’s just say I wasn’t in a great place.
I logged into Twitter. I passed through a few memes – it all comes full circle – and landed on a tweet from @OfficialJaden – Jaden Smith:
I GROANED. I thought about my annoyance with the proclivity of individuals – namely men – to call women “females.” I remembered in that instance how I recently schooled one of my cousins on the discrepancy. “You wouldn’t call guys ‘males.’ It reduces us to nothing more than a set of privates. I’m more than just a vagina, right, cuz?” He grimaced because I’d mentioned my vagina, but said he thought he understood. I remembered that small victory and took it upon myself to be a warrior for justice once more.
I hit reply on the tweet and typed:
I immediately got push back. A guy asked me why I couldn’t just take the compliment. I considered ignoring the response, but I thought about some of my favorite internet savvy writers and creators. @Chescaleigh (Franchesca Ramsey) wouldn’t back down, neither would @HeavenRants (Heben Nigatu) @EveEwing or @AmandaSeales… one would assume.
I responded, using a helpful Buzzfeed article written by Heben and Tracy Clayton as my main reasoning. My internet assailant did not take kindly to my use of Buzzfeed as a source. Suffice it to say, he didn’t agree with my grievances.
The hate started flooding in, and a few hours after my original tweet. It happened. I became a meme.
I thought, “but I’m not… I can’t be… I’m not annoying, am I?” The whole point of a meme is to define something with an image that can’t or might not necessarily be so easily defined with just words. This unseen person – whose account has since been deleted mind you – had defined me.
The meme got TONS of likes and comments and sent a horde of people flooding over to my original tweet to say both mean and nice things – but mostly mean things. At the time of my publishing this article, my original tweet has 136,822 impressions and 52,290 engagements. Keep in mind that before this I only had 70 Twitter followers. I mostly used Twitter to say dumb things like:
Clearly, I was speaking to the void and suddenly I had people going through my page and commenting on old stuff with:
It’s like people were just trying to find some “gold” that would get them as many retweets and interactions as @VersaceSilk got before. It was sickening. I learned how to turn off notifications for that specific post, but that wasn’t enough. I turned off notifications for Twitter completely… but that wasn’t’ enough. I still couldn’t help logging in to see what people were saying about me. Things like:
That last one struck fear in me and made me delete the Twitter app completely. Then it showed up on Facebook. @FuckJerry had reposted it. I thanked God my Twitter name was a silly spelling of my name and not close enough that random people could make the connection to my actual Facebook page. Then it showed up on Instagram. @BeigeCardigan, @FuckJerry’s “sister” account, posted it with a caption telling me to “sit down.” Some girl tagged me in a comment saying she’d “found me” on Instagram. “IT’S THE SAME HANDLE, GIRLFRIEND!! YOU AIN’T NO SUPERSLEUTH!” Is what I wanted to respond, but I was scared there’d be more pushback. I made my Instagram account private and curled up under my covers.
My friends seemed to find out one by one. Matt called me – “Karen, you’re famous!” He encouraged me to capitalize on this. To let this launch me into fame. He said I’d have to become a feminazi online to keep it up. “But I don’t wanna be a feminazi. I just want to express my opinion every once in a while and not be demonized for it.” My writer’s group friends from Columbia told me they’d all reported @FuckJerry for reposting it. This was way before reports of how reporting doesn’t actually work for black women, but it was no use anyway. It was everywhere. I couldn’t run from it.
The first two days were incredibly hard. I pretended to be okay and laugh it off, but I cried… a lot. By the third day, I had people defending me wholeheartedly when I just wanted it to all disappear.
The last place it showed up was Reddit. A friend with whom I went to camp in middle school called me. “Hey Karen did you know…” “Yes, Ryan. I know.” He helped me laugh about it. He told me he’d make fun of me for a while for it, but he knew that was just my brand of sarcasm. He knew it didn’t read like I’d have actually said it.
And that’s just it. I listened to a podcast recently that talked about how with text-based platforms, there emerges this certain level of intimacy that feels violated when questioned. Our words are unavoidably close to who we are and when they’re misconstrued, we’re at a huge loss to regain control of what we “meant” or “intended.”
Thankfully, the buzz subsided. In fact, exactly a week later, I was able to log in to my social media accounts and not see anything concerning the meme. It was a huge relief.
Now, every once in a while, someone online will bring it up. A new, burgeoning humor account will repost the meme in hopes of getting the same kind of acclaim. There’s nothing creative or nuanced about their approach. It’s just a cruel, uninspired rehashing. People will tag me in it thinking they’re the first to do so or hoping I’ll go off. They aren’t, and I won’t.
Initially, part of me wished I’d been more straightforward. I thought, “if only I’d been clearer about what I meant, maybe people would have been more inclined to hear me out.” I had to stop that destructive thinking. No one should have to cater their dissent to the understanding of their oppressors. I know, I know. “Dissent” and “oppressors” feel like big words for something that seems so small, but it’s not small! Calling a woman a female reduces her to nothing more than an animal or an object strictly defined by her genitalia. On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense. “Female” is an adjective. On the other hand, this is dangerous for multiple reasons. For one thing, this nomenclature completely erases transwomen and lumps gender nonconforming individuals into a basket they didn’t ask for. This kind of thinking can also inevitably lead to physical and verbal violence and the continued oppression and belittling of an entire subsection of the human race.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still drop it low in da club to all the misogynistic bangers from the 90’s, 2000 and beyond (and before, I see you “Tootsie Roll”) but I don’t deny that the language used in these songs is reductive and incendiary. It’s a tough line to tread – being a woman who considers herself “woke” but who also wants to participate in many of the facets of daily life and pop culture. There’s a lot to juggle. Way more than I could address in one article. Nevertheless, I’ve decided I can personally choose small battles day by day.
I have about 100 more followers on Twitter now. I know. I’m killing it. And I know most are there waiting for me to say something else they consider dumb or “meme-able,” but that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like you and not everyone is going to understand you. But if you’re smart, you’ll spend more time listening to the people who love you and do understand you.
Either way, the moral of the story is – if you’re gonna come for Jaden Smith, be prepared to face a little push back :).