Amidst the sea of lip-syncing videos and dance parodies, there’s also this on TikTok:
Nakakainis na talaga♬ original sound – FreyaisaKurapikasimp – FitCheckGirl
It has 1.5 Million views, 224.9k likes (including mine), and 5,616 shares. It’s FitCheckGirl’s most viewed video on her profile. The TikTok in question — a script of disjointed events and essentially nonsense — had 1.5 million viewers wheezing out from their noses. When I came across it on my For You page, my two thoughts were, firstly, ‘wow this is funny,’ and secondly, ‘who the hell can I send this to without them thinking I’ve finally tipped over and gone insane?’
“Unhinged,” seems to be the word that encapsulates so many of us these days. An apt representation of this being the soft drink ad that launched full throttle Ad Agents of Manila discourse on Twitter late last year. The amount of user generated content the brand garnered from the image of a boy with four cups on his back and a mother pulling off her head to reveal a bottle was astounding. The images infiltrated art communities, Jackbox parties, and think pieces.
Just in: Officiall na: RC Cola Sales increased by 67% vs the week prior the launch of the latest campaign.— Herbert Hernandez (@Moonstar88) January 13, 2021
Good news to para sa mga frontliners ng mga ideas diyan. Mapa Client at Agency.
But latching onto absurd imagery doesn’t find its advent in millennial humor. Once upon a time a man displayed a toilet in the middle of a gallery, entitled it “The Fountain,” and called it a day. It’s one of the enduring images in Dadaism and even in art history–found objects taken out of context and given new meaning, or absolutely none at all.
The art movement of Dadaism countered the pointless and increasing horrors of World War I (and the materialism that came with it) with seemingly and equally pointless art. You have a bicycle wheel propped on top of a stool, poems that seem to contain only gibberish and onomatopoeia, and a splotch of blue on paper proclaiming that it is the color of dreams being called art. These are images that won’t make sense in a world where everything can be explained in simple terms. But the space we live in, despite all the data analytics at our disposal, rarely makes sense.
The mass generation of such images has become more commonplace. Dadaism, and Neo-Dada made use of found objects and ready-made things reconstructed to become something else. This practice is not unlike our reuse of images, meme formats, and 9GAG rage comics in 2020. Nothing made sense in 2020, except the memes.
While Dadaism was meant to poke fun at existing art establishments, meme culture is there to critique, however carelessly, the senselessness of whatever news headlines or spokesperson exclamation is thrown our way. Well into quarantine, Goya’s grotesque paintings served as mirrors of what was happening outside our spaces of privilege. But as time stretched on into gray matter, we started resonating instead with media that essentially meant nothing. And it’s that radio static that captured the paralysis we felt.
Last year saw the bombardment of emotionally charged sentiments from brands and personalities, but anything that pandered to rationality seemed to fall (offensively) flat. How do you tell a generation in the midst of race wars, climate change on hyperspeed, and an evolving global pandemic that “there’s a reason for all of this”? In these instances, the injection of reason turned out to be the problem. No amount of uplifting worship songs and labels of “hero” did much for an audience as tired and as bedraggled. Late night press conferences consisted of nonsensical drivel and syrupy backing tracks on national television. If the government was allowed to shitpost, then our memes would be as equally derailed.
We try to look for meaning everywhere, whether we acknowledge it to be art or not. Does something need to be deep in order for it to resonate, or is absurdity valuable currency during a time when the future feels next to nonexistent?
With the internet in place, new images are turned over quickly and at rapid rates. The crude drawing of a man entering a room saying, “Are ya cake, son?” requires that you be wired to understand the layers of meaning. Miss the cake trend and you don’t get it. Miss the “Are ya winning, son?” trend and you’ve lost it as well. Though the impact is still there. Our attention spans are shortening. I caught myself thinking, “this TikTok is so long.” It was 50 seconds. But surprisingly, we’re able to retain images and their meanings no matter how fast their internet lifespans.
There is also some empty entertainment in finding the smallest parts of ourselves identify with something outside us, as absurd as these outside elements may be. While ostriches were roaming free in our streets, and livestock were running about our highways, we were busy looking for Our Names as Things. It felt a bit like scavenging through a pile of misread zodiac predictions — not necessarily true, but true enough to elicit a nose wheeze and a “same.”
We use humor to cope. Memes, or at least the way we create them today, allow us to take the uncertainty and nonsense that plagues us from day-to-day and make them into something that can make us laugh. We have power over these images, and in turn they provide us with necessary comfort.
“I don’t know why this is so funny,” said a friend who had sent over a panel of photos comparing memes throughout the years, the final one representing our visual humor in the current day. It was simply a man, standing against a gray background, the name “David,” around David a radial blur not unlike the Mr. Krabs meme. If people thought dissecting Rothkos was hard, try explaining to your parents why you’re laughing at a panel illustrating the different kinds of boys and ending with Archibald.
My favorite video from 2020 was a dance ensemble consisting of Mike Wazowski, Kermit the Frog, Shrek, Donatello of the boygroup commonly known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an alien, and for the sake of Green Consistency, Green Lantern. They’re dancing to the high pitched squeal of Mike incorporated into a beat. When I think of someone saying, “scream into the void and the void screams back,” this is exactly how I envision that dialogue.
There’s joke about how in 2015, all of our answers to the question “where do you think you’ll be five years from now?” were wrong. If someone were to ask us the same question now, with quarantine still in full swing, calls of us being choosy over a vaccine, and the idea of being in a crowd of sweaty people feeling like an impossible future, we’d be hard pressed to answer. But perhaps what we can say, with much honesty is, “still making memes probably.”
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