Meme culture has a singularly irritating way of blowing world events out of proportion for the sake of extracting some minuscule manner of entertainment out of what is otherwise a pretty dire state of affairs. The start of the new year has had no shortage of shit storms to poke fun at. From typical American jingoism to potentially global pandemics, there’s been plenty of stuff for the fabled “doomers” to make low-effort macros out of.
What’s peculiar about this recent crop of memes is how they’ve become a means of casual commentary on the goings-on of the world. Countless images have popped up making fun of backwards Chinese traditions like eating bat soup now that the novel Coronavirus is the latest in a string of potentially world-ending events (at least in the minds of the terminally online, a group that, unfortunately, I myself belong to).
Earlier last month it was hard to escape the onslaught of lazy political commentary in the form of memes about America putting an end to the world as we know it by glassing some country over oil. Again, none of this is insight. Most of it isn’t even vaguely true. But people, especially Gen Z types who barely pay attention to the world at large, subconsciously lap it up. In a sense, it’s much easier to base your understanding of current events on tiny snippets of dubious information – everything’s a spectacle, everything’s fun, but most importantly, none of it is exactly real. It all goes back to something I’ve already discussed in previous articles, Baudrillard’s concept of simulation and simulacrum. Memes fall squarely in that second category – they’re an image that represents reality. It doesn’t matter if said image is legitimate or accurate, it just matters that it exists and that it carries some sort of symbolic meaning.
That symbolic meaning, in forum culture, would be most easily portrayed in the form of clout, or rather the amount of attention it gets. The more people are amused by the simulacrum, the more realistic it gets. It’s not a matter of people appealing to popular authority or going with the herd. What happens is that the pseudo-information burrows itself into your mind through sheer repetition and inescapability.
How many memes of people with Asian features eating whole bats out of bowls do you have to see before you start accepting that, yeah, maybe that’s part of their culture and maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the spread of zoonotic diseases (that is to say viruses that make the jump from animals to humans). Again, that information isn’t necessarily wrong. But it’s not exactly right either. And still it doesn’t matter, because it turns into the official narrative for all those who don’t have the time or the skill set to sift through all the information.
And that’s where memes come into play when it comes to so called accelerationism. Places like 4chan have always specialized in pumping out industrial amounts of content – images of Pepe the Frog dressed in a hazmat suit, anthropomorphized versions of the Corona virus, viral screenshots of comments written by people who may or may not be medical professionals on the front lines of the epidemic.
But you don’t need to go that deep to see the effect meme culture is having on our overall perception of Doomsday scenarios. Even Facebook “shareposters” have taken to reveling in the end of civilization, be it because nuclear war would relieve them of the need to study for exams, or because they simply think it would be funny to watch the world burn down to ashes.
I’m not condemning this behavior in any way. I’m a doomer myself. The roof is on fire, we don’t need no water, yada, yada. But it’s absurd that, on such a universal scale, we’ve gone from “we should probably start recycling and get our shit together” to “damn, things are getting exciting, those bushfires in Australia sure are wild, huh?” There’s a collective disconnection between reality and the presentations thereof we see on the web and on television.
Our capacity to truly appreciate the scale and potential of the devastation that is being wrought on Earth and its inhabitants is paradoxically decreasing in direct proportion to our ability to see it all happen in real time. The more we watch people seizing up on their death beds in Wuhan, the more we crave further “happenings”, further chaos to take us out of our monotony-induced delirium.
Some vets describe being shot at as the only time you’re ever truly alive, the only time both your body and being are fully awake and aware of the surrounding chaos. Perhaps that’s why we progressively gravitate towards instability and an irrational desire for collapse? Does feeling inconsequential and trapped in a Groundhog Day-style loop push us into the type of primal desire for violence that we associate with a much more primitive step in our evolution as a species?
Personally, I tend to agree. The doomers I know and have interacted with are all aged 20 and below, completely clueless as to what they’re going to do with their lives. They’ve inherited a world that seems to be teetering on the edge. They have no emotional attachment to said world either – they don’t own their homes, they’re wracked with debt, plagued by mental illness. What connection do they have to this world? What connection do any of us have to it once you strip away community and family? Loyalty to some faceless corporation isn’t a good enough substitute for a meaningful existence. So in the face of that, fuck it, why not crack open a cold one and laugh as shit hits the fan the world over? It’s not our problem, but at least we get to watch it unfold.