By Patrick McAuliffe
Thanks for stopping by, dear reader. My name is Patrick, former EIC-turned-Review groupie. It’s good to be back in the saddle and writing again after a summer (and the beginning of the rest of my life) of mindless obedience to the capitalist system. If you find yourself nodding along with that sentiment, you may be pleasantly – or unpleasantly – surprised with what you find here at the Review. We’re all about capitalism! Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and enjoy, or at least think about, what we have to say. You might just learn a thing or two.
For example, many of you know, especially if you’ve looked at the Internet at least once over the summer, that the first-ever full-scale raid of Area 51 was planned for September 20th. The Facebook event, before it was taken down, was aptly, and perhaps morbidly, named “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” Its description read, “If we Naruto run we can dodge the bullets.” This is such a patently ridiculous thing to do that, if you’re anything like me, your irony senses began tingling at maximum level. Clapping alien cheeks? Finding lost relics from pop culture and science fiction? The sheer emotional swell of Kyles and Karens fighting side by side that not even the final battle of Avengers: Endgame could top? It’s enough to make a person look up plane ticket prices to Nevada for the weekend of the 19th-22nd, even if just to see the spectacle unfold (which I plead the Fifth on).
However, what if there was a deeper meaning to all of this? A YouTube channel called Wisecrack did an excellent video on this topic that I’m condensing and analyzing through my own lens, but I do still recommend checking out their video. The fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people were, at least in theory, ready to ride into certain death because of a meme is astonishing but also unnerving to anyone paying close attention. If I or anyone else had decided to participate in raiding Area 51, we would be a bunch of out-of-shape, directionless, leaderless people facing the might of the US military. After the first few thousand Kyles piled up we might have had cover from the guns, but tanks, planes, and drones can beat a Naruto-running weeb any day. Those plane tickets to Nevada would be a one-way trip (again, not naming any names here, but it might have saved dead me about $500, $300 if I hypothetically flew to Philly).
This Area 51 raid is just one example of a deep problem I’ve had with millennial humor that I haven’t been able to conceptualize until recently. Now, don’t start calling me a boomer because I’m dropping the m-bomb; the more ridiculous a meme is, the more I find myself laughing for some unknown reason. The problem lies in the irony of memes that many young people have filled the Internet with in the last five years or so. The most shareable content, or at least the stuff I primarily see, is something along the lines of “My brain is telling me to eat a vegetable or get enough sleep, but what I’m hearing is iced coffee and cocaine”. You’ll see lots of these: usually images of text, sometimes accompanied with a GIF, that chops up feelings of depression or anxiety into small, shareable bites. I don’t know how many times someone has shared some tweet with me that explains some terrible pattern of behavior or feelings of repressed trauma and laughed out loud, saying, “Wow, it’s me!!”, before resuming their previously scheduled scrolling.
Life can be absurd sometimes, I understand that, and I’m not one to forbid making humor out of a shitty situation; “laughter is the best medicine” and other such adages. The concern is that, through the power and permanence and instantaneous nature of the Internet, ironically using depression memes as a form of condensed therapy becomes a never-ending cycle. You can literally be ironic about your depression for hours if the Algorithm(™) builds your social media feed that way. For anyone that has lived in a state of irony for an extended period of time, such as whipping and nae-naeing as a joke or saying a certain phrase and finding you can’t stop, eventually the irony becomes unironic. People never get help for the problems they see in their memes because they’re too busy laughing at them, and crying underneath. The free catharsis provided by depression memes becomes a sinkhole that is very difficult to escape from.
So where, then, is the balance? The constant state of depression we have now isn’t sustainable for true mental health, but banning such memes outright would be unhelpful (we’d just go back to the old days of more repressed feelings) and egregious (a major free speech violation). In this writer’s humble opinion, the balance is in a shift in mindfulness. Stepping outside of yourself and achieving true irony is when you can laugh at any ridiculous or depressing meme while still seeing it for what it is: just a meme, that in no way is a reflection of reality or a healthy lifestyle. They’re a great pastime in the waiting room of a real therapist, or on a plane ride to a vacation that isn’t in the Nevada desert. Our minds are a beautiful, complex thing, and they should be used to control our irony, not as a target for an Area 51 guard.