We’ve all laughed at something that we shouldn’t have. I bet that even the most ardent Social Justice Activist cringes when they look back to that time they laughed at a dead baby joke as they proceed to question their values and eventually begin to realize that they are part of the problem.
There really shouldn’t be anything to be sad Social Justice Activist, it’s a completely natural and scientifically examined response. Still, it’s bad form to laugh at certain jokes in polite company, and today you can be criticized or worse for making these types of jokes on the internet. We live in socially volatile times, and with people asserting all sorts of different agendas, the window for appropriate jokes is getting smaller and smaller.
Enter r/PrequelMemes, the subreddit for memes about the Star Wars Prequels. The rise of this subreddit may seem like an irrelevant internet fad, but it is indeed a sign of our current culture and a clear progression of humanity’s foray into social media. To understand why, we need to look at a bit meme history, or memistory, if you will. Or not, I’m not the boss of you.
Back in the days of the Space Jam website, the internet was a place of exploration, unfettered information, and anonymity. Oh, and porn, lots of porn. The internet brought forth a new generation of filthy humour. I remember that when I was a wide eyed youth yet unaware of real life's troubles, I would seek out lewd and offensive jokes on the internet and enjoy a chuckle or two. Who could forget Salad Fingers, or this wholesome gem from the same creator? (NSFW: very graphic content)
These videos, however crude they may seem today, did take a certain amount of time and know-how to create, but then the internet did what it did best, it democratized content and made it possible for anyone to create it. It was 2009, the world was about to embark into a new decade, the decade of political strife in The West, the decade of ISIS, the decade of Donald Trump, the decade of Memes.
In 2009, we began to see the popularization of Rage Comics and Advice Animals. These weren’t the first internet memes. We had LOLcats in 2005, and even before that was the O RLY? owl who first appeared in 2003. It’s also worth mentioning that although Rage Comics and Advice Animals memes were both popularized in 2009, they both have earlier origins.
Rage Comics were born on 4chan in 2008, and Advice Animals can trace their lineage back to the Mushroom Kingdom forums in 2006. At that time they were known as Advice Dogs.
So what happened in 2009? Reddit.
Reddit opened its doors in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2008 when they first allowed users to create their own subreddits. This revolutionized the site, and by extension the internet. Now there was a localized forum on basically every subject imaginable. In 2009 both r/fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu and r/AdviceAnimals were born.
This is where Advice Animals really exploded. These memes created their own iconography that was understood by the people from the internet. We now have a diverse cast of characters who all mean different things, and nothing is more cringeworthy than a misused meme. One example of a meme that is often misused is Success Kid.
You’ll often see pictures of this meme improperly denoting frustration or threats, and it just seems incorrect to those the iconography, even though that was his original purpose, but to those who understand the nomenclature of internet memes, it just isn’t right.
Rage Comics’ entrance to reddit was also marked with the creation of many new characters. We’ve all seen Forever Alone Guy and I Know That Feel Bro even if we don’t know it. These memes would often make their way onto our Facebook Newsfeeds, this is turn made them appear to a much larger audience.
So what’s the point of all this?
With the rise of AdviceAnimals and Rage Comics, we began to see some blowback from the original communities of these memes. Advice Animals were used incorrectly and incessantly, and there was even a debate about whether or not the subreddit should allow new image macros, because, y'know, people have too much time on their hands. Rage Comics took a much darker turn.
As I mentioned above, Rage Comics were originally a fixture on 4chan. If you don’t know 4chan, you really should, because they were instrumental to the election of Donald Trump. The people of 4chan are known as Anons, because they all get to be anonymous. It is also established that they are a basement dwelling, socially awkward lot, and everyone else are Normies. It should also be noted that when memes from 4chan permeate other online communities that it’s known as Normielization. Memes appearing on Facebook is the official kiss of death. These are also the very best Trolls on the internet, and are almost invariably male.
And then Gamergate happened. Without going into the detailed history and events that led to Gamergate, it has resulted in a cultural war between SJWs and Red Pillers. Again, without going into intricate detail, SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, and it is a pejorative term referring to leftists who fight for social equity and feminism, while Red Pillers are Men’s Rights Activists who are often maligned on the internet. The SJWs want more female representation and less objectification in video games, while Red Pillers want their games to be left alone. It should be no surprise that 4chan sided with the Red Pillers.
With its illustrious meming history, 4chan considers itself a community of Memelords, and they started a campaign of offensive and controversial memes. They create these offensive memes, “for the lulz,” which is Internetian for, “I’m doing this because I think it’s funny, and it’s also funny that people are throwing temper tantrums over it.” Regular subject matter included memes that criticised feminism and Islam, and they regularly made light of autism.
These are all new developments, so it’s hard to pin times and events down, but Gamergate is said to have begun in 2014. The problem is that some of these memes are objectively funny, and many of them are criticizing or making light of our modern day world. Many of them, however, are objectionably racist and hateful.
But who is to tell you what is funny?
Laughter is spontaneous. When you laugh at something, you rarely do so after 3 minutes of intense contemplation of whether it is appropriate or not. You shouldn’t need to pull out a chart of what is and is not acceptable, but alas, that’s the world we live in. Stand up comedians often speak about the minefield of doing their comedy on campuses. This is because many people get offended by their material and accuse the comedians of bigoted behaviour. There’s even a Community episode about it.
But this isn’t about choosing a side in that debate, this is about the sudden influx of memes about the Star Wars Prequels.
With the exception of a few outliers, it is generally accepted that the Star Wars Prequels were an abomination. The dialogue was terribly written, the acting was stilted, there was Jar Jar Binks, but at the same time it was Star Wars. We all saw the movies, it was a cultural phenomenon. They were monumental disappointments to almost everyone who saw them, but despite all of this, they were just a movie and we’re past it now, and we’re in the golden age of memes.
Many humans like joking about bad things. It helps them cope with the world, but we’re in a unique time in our history where we’re examining what is and isn’t appropriate humour. The Star Wars Prequels are so innocuously egregious that it’s safe to play the, “I’m saying this bad thing, but it’s just a joke,” card. Here’s my personal favourite:
We’re joking about someone burning alive, but it’s harmless. It has nothing to do with racism, feminism, war, suffering, or the patriarchy. It’s just something that happened on screen. No one will look at this and be offended even though it’s about someone burning alive, and if you are offended you might need to reevaluate your positions in life. But it’s not a real person, it’s Anakin Skywalker burning because Obi Wan Kenobi had the high ground.
We’re facing a time in our life where censorship is becoming a major issue. Many on the left argue that we’re in a time where we need to be sensitive to all peoples before we speak. On the right, Donald Trump is threatening to, “open up those libel laws,” presumably so he can shut his critics up. It means that making a joke is becoming a minefield, and in the dominant age of social media it’s hard to know what followers and friends are going to find appropriate, but in all of this, there’s one safe haven for the awful joke. r/PrequelMemes.