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2021 meme pages

Meme account admins on defining the chaos and cursedness of 2021

@affirmations, @millennialsopranos, @seinpeaks, and @atmfiend reflect on how memes got them (and us) through ‘the least definable year’ ever

We spent a lot of 2021 sitting at home trying to cope and connect with one another during a traumatic shared human experience – and what better way to do that than with memes? As our mental health spiralled, the memes we turned to became more and more absurd, images further dislocated from their original meaning, language collapsed. It is best exemplified, perhaps, by @afffirmations, a page of near-constant, kind of nonsense images and text designed to uplift: “I’m the landlord of my haters”, “my mood is not varied like COVID”, and “there will be no December depression”, the latter accompanied by a photo of The Rock, to name a few of thousands.

Memes splintered into more subgenres, offering people ways to define niche feelings or express super specific fandom. As we spent the majority of the year bingeing The Sopranos and watching Succession through our hands, pages like @millennialsopranos and @NoContextSuccession proliferated. Trauma memes like those on @atmfiend offered people a space to process and share their unique trauma, proving once and for all that even at their most esoteric, memes are more than a little joke. 

The space for comfort that memes offered in 2021 was key to our sanity, but what about the people behind the memes? “The biggest things I learned about people from running my page is that people genuinely want to connect and heal, that irony is dead and earnestness is in, and that we all wanna just do better than us in the past,” says Erin, the admin behind @atmfiend. We spoke to some other admins to see how they defined and documented 2021.

‘SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY’ 

2021 was, to put it lightly, not a good time! Globally and personally, it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of our shared sanity. @millennialsopranos, who posts memes of Sopranos screencaps with a present-day twist, said that they define 2021 as: “To quote The Boss, ‘You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright’.”

The admin behind @afffirmations, arguably the most surprise meme page hit of 2021, said: “I would define 2021 as fast-paced and filled to the brim with visual stimulus. For my part, the year was probably very repetitive, perhaps even boring, although it’s easy for me to forget the fact that this year I established quite the successful social media project. This is the sentence of the year: ‘SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY’.”

@seinpeaks, who posts mash-ups of Seinfeld and Twin Peaks to a weird, perfect effect, said: “2021 is the least definable year I’ve ever experienced. The closest I can come to describing this year is waking up from a nightmare into another dream.”

ADMINING THROUGH THE ANTHROPOCENE

Like any public figures, despite often being anonymous, meme admins deal with a lot of bullshit and projection from their audience. That goes double when they’re posting memes that could be deemed controversial, like @atmfiend. To cope, Erin says that she had “better boundaries with followers”.

On the other hand, @millennialsopranos started grad school: “Much like running a meme account, it’s a time waster that makes you no money.” @afffirmations has “been so busy making daily affirmations” that they “haven’t had time to think about personal problems”, while @seinpeaks got a little more productive with their coping methods: “I’m pretty proud of this one. I coped with 2020 by writing a script that evolved out of my Seinfeld/David Lynch mash-ups. In 2021, I turned it into a podcast. I just released the first part this week, actually.”

ON CONTROVERSIES AND VIRALITIES

As admins learned this year, the memes that take off and connect with people are rarely the ones that anyone expects.

@millennialsopranos: “Dune your mom”

@affirmations: Gangster SpongeBob, “I will not google symptoms today”

@seinpeak: A video of Jason Alexander dancing in a top hat, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s “Dance of the Dream Man” from Twin Peaks

Where there’s comedy, there’s often also controversy. @millennialsopranos said: “The meme about Rush Limbaugh dying pissed off a few people, but everyone got mad when I said The Shield is better than The Wire. They hated Jesus because He told them the truth.” 

@seinpeaks accidentally stoked the fire of the beef between Seinfeld and Friends fans on April Fool’s Day, by briefly turning their page into a Friends/Twin Peaks mash-up page instead: “I lost 1,000 followers within six hours. I wish I was exaggerating,” they said.

@afffirmations was pretty controversial all round. “There were a lot of controversial memes. Me doing these affirmations every day for a whole year quickly gets tiresome and repetitive. I want movement, change, and, yes, controversy,” they say. “The whole concept is quite controversial in certain circles, especially due to the fact that my most popular pictures use the negation, “I AM NOT…”. But I am not making these pictures purely in order to stir controversy. I am making them based on my creative and conceptual intuition.” 

ON THE FANDOMS

For the admins who run fan-oriented pages, their year has been defined by their connections with other fans: “Will Janowitz, who played Finn in The Sopranos, told me that James Gandolfini would have hated Little Caesars’ pretzel stuffed-crust pizza,” said @millennialsopranos.

“There’s something to be said for hitting a niche and tapping into something that was just waiting to be discovered. So many of my followers vastly surpass me with the memes they send me. They do my shtick so much better than me sometimes,” said @seinpeaks. “Last month, a follower messaged me when he noticed the VHS tape of Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me on George’s bookshelf in an episode of Seinfeld – specifically, in a scene featuring two actors from that movie. I made my page not expecting anyone to get into it. But as it turns out, what I thought was a very narrow niche, turned out to be shared by a lot of very talented people. That’s been pretty cool to discover.”

SUCCEEDING AND BEING SEEN

As a meme page admin, these people get to see the best and worst of humanity. “During my time as an influencer, I’ve realised that most people will go a long way in order to say to the world, ‘I was there’. Everyone wants to be seen,” said @millennialsopranos. “Succeeding on social media is all about understanding advertisement and postmodernism – who is mimicking whom? Is the influencer mimicking the audience, or the other way around?”

For the most part, their insights into how people work has been positive, fostering connection in a year sorely lacking in it. “The community of TV fans I cater to are some of the sweetest, funniest people I’ve ever met. I’ve made close friends with some of my followers, and it’s been a joy to log on, ignore my real world problems and talk to them for a bit every day,” said @seinpeaks. 

@afffirmations also has a positive outlook: “Most people are good people. They retain their moral values, even when they’re online, and I find that really cool.”