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The year 2011 saw the web become the great democratic tool it’s always had the potential to be. That does not, however, mean it stopped doing what it’s best at: providing us hours of meaningless entertainment with meme, after meme, after meme.
And while nothing in 2011 was able to unseat the cat as the king of the internet, more than a few put up a spirited fight for that top position. So here you go: some of the most noteable memes of 2011.
She was just a girl trying to make her mark in the music industry, which she did — just not in the way that she expected. What else can be said about the intrepid Black? Her little ditty about Friday quickly became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube (only to be recently toppled by a homophobic advertisement from a US presidential candidate) and spawned countless parodies in multiple formats. Beyond the mainstream media frenzy the video caused, in a bit of intertextuality, she was also featured in the video for pop sensation Katy Perry’s hit single (also of a dubious quality were I asked) Last Friday Night. Can you stomach one more listen?
Given that TIME magazine named “The Protestor” as its Person of The Year in 2011, alongside the fact that so many of those protests had strong ties to the internet, it was to be expected that a number of protest themed memes would make this list. Perhaps not the kind of protestor TIME magazine may have had in mind — the looters who caused much consternation for social networks amidst the UK riots spawned a hilarious meme. Using photoshop — as the name suggests — images of looters were doctored. Rather than them looting 22″ LCD TVs and designer clothes, the looters were now looting things a little bit different. Widely shared on blogs and social networks, the Tumblr blog was quickly turned into a book. The image below — echoing safety concerns about the 2012 Olympics being held in London — was a firm favourite.
First World Problems/Middle Class Problems/White Whine
With so much online content revolving around the middle class, this was a brilliant piece of self-referential humour. Whether it be “problems” of those in the (to use the passé term) “First World” or those who are — despite how we may feel — privileged, this meme, going by these three terms, turned our collective middle class guilt into a funny distraction on various social media. While not created of 2011, these catchphrases truly came into their own this year. On Tumblr, various photoblogs using these phrases — using melodramatic stock images — went viral. It also became common to see people hashtagging their (or as a dig, other people’s) tweeted complaints using these hashtags.
I am the 99%
Though in no way “mindless entertainment”, this is a meme which cannot be ignored. This simple phrase (also sometimes said/written as “We Are the 99%” owes its existence to the now iconic Occupy Wall Street protests), started life off as a simple Tumblr photoblog, before the protests.
“I Am the 99%” — which became the Occupy protests’ rallying cry — was a Tumblr photoblog where people submitted images of themselves with a sign explaining how the Great Recession had affected their lives, signed off “I Am The 99%”. The payoff line was a reference to the rapidly growing income inequality between the richest one percent of Americans — getting richer — and the rest, the 99% who had become relatively poorer.
It all started with a horrific viral video of a policeman calmly walking by, pepper-spraying a peaceful group of students taking part in an “Occupy” protest at a university in California. Much like the photoshoplooter blog, Lieutenant John Pike, who was dubbed “the pepperspray cop” quickly turned up, thanks to the magic of photoshop, in various other — though stranger — scenes and images calmly pepper-spraying people who had done nothing to justify such treatment.
Proving anything, or rather anyone, can become a meme, Canadian actor Ryan Gosling emerged as both one of the oddest and most enduring memes of 2011. Started in 2008, Gosling already was a meme with the immensely popular FuckYeahRyanGoslingTumblr blog which featured an image of the actor “saying” something strange or inane but always funny when juxtaposed with the image, but always started off by saying “Hey girl”. “Ryan Gosling,” however, only truly became a meme with the “more thoughtful” counterpart, FeministRyanGosling who — after his “Hey girl” catch-phrase — would give some piece of feminist theory. Pure genius. Gosling, seeing the humour in the blogs, has even given readings of these images.
So enraged was the internet that Gosling was overlooked as People magazine’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive that pop-culture site BuzzFeed launched a petition with “10 scientific reasons” why Gosling should have taken the title. Bradley Cooper, the illegitimate title-holder, also agreed.
Let us know which memes were of note to you.