Gemma Styles | Contributing writer | Saturday, 23 April 2016

Gemma Styles: How Meme Culture Made Us All Crueler

Gemma Styles: How Meme Culture Made Us All Crueler

The Debrief: Our desire to get an online lol has turned us all into stranger shamers

Photo: Matilda Hill-Jenkins

Memes are a minefield. With high profile meme tales coming to light recently, such as Wentworth Miller and the unseen depression behind a meme he starred in, it might be time to start thinking more about the people behind the lols… One of the latest doing the rounds is a picture of a woman who took her shoes off and fell asleep sprawled out in a chair in the middle of a shopping centre. 

Cue internet. It didn’t take long before that meme-y part of the interweb got hold of the photo and put their amateur editing skills to good (?) use. Let the battle of the online comedian commence.

And so it goes: AHA! I think this is funny, so if I show it to other people before anyone else does then THEY will think I’M funny and I will be original and hilarious (and righteously indignant when the fat jewish nicks it) and get made king/queen of the internet. I do get it. People do some strange things. I’m not above a chuckle at seeing a dude wearing make-shift flip flops made from carrier bags (sigh, Dalston) – but I’d probably just sneak a pic of the feet, not a full shot of the guy to be posted to Reddit or wherever these things go to be meme-ified.

I think it’s kind of weird to post pictures of people online, especially their faces, when they haven’t agreed to it. Don’t know if that’s a leftover throwback from primary school (when they have to ask permission to use photos of you for anything) but it just seems a bit rude? Or like you’re not allowed? Don’t actually know the legal standpoint on this but I’m pretty sure it’s at least a no-no to start posting pictures of people willy nilly about the place? What if the sleeping lady was in the witness protection program?! (Have I just outlined a comedy film plot? If you see posters for Meme On The Run starring Melissa McCarthy (in cinemas August 2018) start popping up then I’d just like to state now that this was my idea. Let the record show.)

Point being, even though seeing someone asleep in the middle of a shopping centre is funny, it’s a bit nuts that this woman now has to see herself sleeping all over the internet, as well as Photoshop-ed into The Lion King/a galaxy/football game/wrestling ring/the sea. So she was knackered, waiting and wanted to get comfy. Good for her. Kick those mules off lady and do as you will. 

I think I'm now almost too familiar with the horror stories behind anonymous internet jokes. Kids get made into memes and cry because the whole world seems to be laughing at them. That's so not funny. The woman in the sleeping picture, although I joke about the witness protection program, could have been grabbing a much needed five minutes after working back to back shifts as a nurse but still having to take her dependent grandchild shoe shopping. As much as the Internet teaches us, I'm more aware than ever that there's a hell of a lot that it doesn't show too - maybe I've just started creating my own revealing back stories in anticipation of the real ones that always seem to come up. Meme meta. Wow.

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Follow Gemma on Twitter: @GemmaAnneStyles

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