The history and psychology of the Basic Meme tells us how we got here

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Everyone has a pet peeve. For example, did you know many people are actually offended by the term “pet peeve”? We all have some small grievance we carry around – it’s what keeps us vital.

I have many annoyances, but right now, it is the glut of Basic Memes that’s getting to me.

Phrases such as “She Believed She Could, So She Did” are currently doing my head in. It’s the vague smugness that burns. And the fact that this line of logic is patently false!

Oh, I get it. Self-belief is the first step in accomplishing any task. I’m just not sure it’s the only step? Especially if the goal is to transpose a super-sexy puppy dog filter over your face on Snapchat?

See, Basic Memes used to be confined to Pinterest and Facebook, but they have since spread like glitter slime across Instagram. These girly slogans carry a whiff of empowerment without actually saying anything. Now they are on T-shirts and jumpers and sleepwear and cushions and posters and plaques. I would not be surprised if we start to see them engraved on tombstones.

“Here lies Nikki Sinclair. No Bad Vibes!”

These, the bumper stickers of the 21st century, are, I’m guessing, for the young woman who, if you can’t take her at her worst, you don’t deserve her at her best. If only we knew which was which.

The one currently on high-rotation is “You’re Gold Baby, Solid Gold.” It’s almost always written in a paintbrush font, and it’s always gold. Pretty, right? It’s likely a truncated version of what Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy in SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, “Stay gold”, which is itself, a reference to a Robert Frost poem.

But Johnny was dying, guys! If any person, man or woman, told me I was “solid gold, baby”, and we were not day drinking on a beach in Maui wearing only coconut oil, I would assume they were insane.

“But first, coffee,” is another example. What does that even mean? Unless there’s a serious problem, most of us need caffeine to get through the day. So, what next? “But first, let me get out of bed?” “But first, let me breathe oxygen?”

Apparently, the origin of the phrase can be traced back to a 1994 translation of The Brothers Karamazov. It popped up again in 2000 in a Washington Post headline “They All Want To Change the World. But First, Coffee”.

By 2012, it was on T-shirts. And this is, I suppose, my main problem. I can’t buy a cheap, quality T-shirt anymore without turning it over to see “Nap Queen!” emblazoned across the part that is supposed to be plain marl grey. What are we supposed to do with that information anyway?

“OH, so according to this T-shirt, you’re the queen of naps? Why is that?”

“Um, yeah, because I love to nap!”

Look around you, reader. Is there anybody you can find who hates to nap?

Let’s talk about the mermaid memes. “Let’s be mermaids!” and “I wish I was a mermaid.” Really? You want to exchange your two working legs for sushi with nothing but your own hair for a bra so you can call out to sailors who haven’t bathed in months? Clearly, this one was not thought through.

But the worst are the lists. Just random lists of stuff white women like me are purported to enjoy. As if the rest of the human race has not already covered their love of these thing extensively.

Sunsets

Kissing

Champagne

Unicorns

Moonlight

Fridays

Speaking of Fridays. What does it mean to post “FRIYAY” on your Instagram? It’s the type of pun that an overly excitable co-worker might use late one Friday afternoon after a particularly hard week. And you might smile benevolently at them because you don’t want to crush the spirit of a person who finds joy in so little.

Now, imagine that co-worker said it the following Friday. And then the next. And then, pretty soon, they are just blurting it out constantly. Because that is how this meme is being used. Indeed, how they are all being used. So, why are we treating these nonsensical slogans with the sort of reverence once reserved for quotes from scripture? Because people are framing them.

What exactly would happen to us if someone disobeyed the command of “Good Vibes only”? Actually, I believe I’m doing that right now.

So let me proffer a reason as to why I think they are so popular. A recent study undertaken by New York University and published in NYMag, found that “People like tweets that tell them how to feel.” Which might be expanded to include all social media, or any sort of communication at all.

Their conclusion, that people prefer facts over feelings, explains, in large part, the popularity of these memes. They aren’t telling us anything new, because they aren’t designed to. They are there to create a feeling, a sense of uniqueness within a community that understands us. This is why they are loved. Well, that and the fonts.

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