The best memes of 2021

Lost the nomination / won the internet

Bernie Sanders sits alone, with arms and legs crossed, on a folding chair at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The Democratic senator from Vermont is bundled up against the freezing Washington winter in a coat and large, striped mittens (knitted by a constituent using wool from recycled jumpers). His face mask hides his emotions—does he resent his colleague’s success, or is he just really cold? Either way, while Mr Biden moved into the White House, Mr Sanders was dragged around the internet to sit wherever people pleased. Find him on a bench with Forrest Gump, on the flight deck of the starship Enterprise and just behind Jesus at the Last Supper.

Push on through

A Burmese aerobics instructor bouncing through her exercise routine in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, inadvertently captures history. Khing Hnin Wai is working out next to a wide, empty road with a barrier in the distance behind her. As she hops from side to side, a column of black cars passes through the checkpoint. The road leads to the parliament. Inside the cars are leaders from the army on their way to seize control in a coup. Oblivious, Ms Wai punches the air. Beneath her face mask she seems to be smiling. Later memes show her at other momentous events, including the storming of the Capitol building in Washington, but none is as surreal as the original.

Read the standing orders

A chaotic online meeting held in a small town in the north of England makes an unexpected setting for a viral video. A film of the conclave (held on Zoom in December 2020 but shared on Twitter in February) stars the two rival factions of Handforth Parish Council, and a consultant brought in to oversee them. The outsider is not welcomed by all: “You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver,” the chairman blusters. But Mrs Weaver does have control of the Zoom. After she ejects the rowdiest participants the meeting proceeds. Spoofed as an action film, the video is called the “political thriller of the decade”. Our correspondent, who dug into Handforth’s dysfunctional politics, described the meeting as “a very old idea of Englishness being squeezed, with immense discomfort, into modern form”.

Poor little kitten

Rod Ponton’s appearance before the 394th Judicial District Court is magical. All was well in the virtual waiting room where Mr Ponton, in human form, chats with the judge. But as he emerges into the courtroom he is transformed, as if in a fairy tale, into an adorable white kitten. He looks lost. His huge doleful eyes search for someone to help him. Mr Ponton can’t remove the filter—presumably his fluffy little paws can’t work the keyboard. His assistant can’t do it either. Gamely he offers to proceed, uttering, in a Texas drawl, the immortal line: “I’m here live. I’m not a cat.” See it on a T-shirt near you now.

Flight of the snowbird

As Texas freezes under record snowfall, and its lowest temperatures in 30 years, millions are left without electricity and heat. One man, and his family, make a daring and badly judged escape. When Texas closed schools this February one of the state’s Republican senators, Ted Cruz, flew his family to Cancún in balmy Mexico. A picture of Mr Cruz wheeling his suitcase through the airport brought huge public interest—and much mockery. His holiday coincided with the landing of nasa’s Perseverance rover: hence Mr Cruz was sent to Mars. In another frame he joins Chris Christie, another Republican, caught in 2017 relaxing on a similarly controversial stretch of sand.

Big issues

One of the world’s largest container ships is blown off course and becomes wedged across the Suez canal. The boat, and a tiny digger dispatched to excavate it, become a metaphor for the enormity of the pandemic. This moment also created a precious thing—a meme without a humiliated victim. Someone must have been responsible for steering the Ever Given into a wall and paralysing world trade, but the internet did not know who. Instead advice was offered to the vessel itself. The best came in self-help form: “You are not too much. You are ENTITLED to take up space. If the Suez Canal doesn’t have room for you, that is the Suez Canal’s problem.

Take a load off

Two vegetarian meals each day. A monthly budget of 200 yuan ($30). Working just two months a year. When a Chinese internet user posted this brief description of his simple, stress-free life he described his philosophy as tangping, or “lying flat”. The post went viral. On social media, people showed their approval of tangping by sharing pictures of themselves (and, often, their cats) lying in bed. To young Chinese it was a rejection of overwhelming pressure and a “996” working culture. To Xi Jinping’s Communist Party, ever wary of the internet, it conveyed a whiff of unwelcome dissent.

I have a meme

In this business, longevity is everything. So if a picture of you as a toddler, on a beach eating sand, is still doing the rounds 15 years later, you’ve got a hot one. Popular memes have always made money, by attracting eyeballs which can be served with adverts. But 2021 was payout time for the owners of original artworks who sold them as non-fungible tokens. In April the boy on the beach, aka “Success Kid”, was sold for 15 Ethereum, then worth $30,000. The same month “Disaster Girl” got $500,000. “Charlie bit my finger”, a classic example of the form, was auctioned for $760,999.

A very naughty boy

The Economist calls Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a danger to democracy, and urged voters to shun him at an upcoming election. Our advice is not welcomed by all. But our cover labelling amlo “Mexico’s false messiah” gives Mexican Twitter room to showcase their “true messiahs”, from Guillermo Del Toro, an Oscar-winning film director, to Marco Antonio Solís Sosa, a musician known as El buki, and the not-so-humble taco.

Thrown together

A photograph of director Wes Anderson and three stars of his latest movie, “The French Dispatch”, at the Cannes film festival, becomes a lens through which to classify the world. Lined up like avatars from a video game are Timothée Chalamet, slouching in his black jeans; Mr Anderson, dapper in white; Tilda Swinton, posing in electric-blue and Bill Murray, in shorts and a fedora. They inhabit the same world but each moves through it in their own special way. Early iterations of the meme riffed on social media (“TikTok, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter”) but Mr Anderson’s gang spent the summer being labelled as everything from tennis tournaments to stages of the editing process.

Something to hodl onto

It’s morning and your bros feel good. As cryptocurrencies have hit the mainstream this year, the jargon used by those who trade in them is getting attention too. Memes like this one cover the basics. gm is good morning, shorthand long used by traders on Bloomberg that has now taken hold in cryptoworld. wagmi—“we’re all gonna make it”—is a mantra of solidarity between those trying to navigate this volatile industry. Its flip-side, ngmi—“not gonna make it”—describes the anguish when the rewards of a particular deal disappear out of reach.

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