Over the past year, the news has been dominated by bad news, from devastating updates about the global pandemic, to hate crimes. However, every now and again, a headline is just absurd enough to find itself commemorated as a meme on Twitter timelines, TikTok trends and Tumblr dashboards (and inevitably as screenshots posted on Instagram). In case you missed the memo (or should I say, meme-o), here is a rundown and explanation of the meme highlights of 2021 thus far.
Bernie Sanders and his mittens
After the 2020 US elections that had the world collectively holding its breath, President Joe Biden was elected as the 46th President of the United States. However, at his inauguration on 20 January, all eyes were on Senator Bernie Sanders and his mittens. With hands and legs crossed, and while wearing oversized mittens, Sen. Sanders was photographed by Brendan Smialowski, a photojournalist at Agence France-Presse. Soon, thousands of renditions of the picture with hilarious captions were being shared on social media. While it was not a headline by itself, the meme was a wholesome takeaway after a tense election.
GameStop short squeeze
The social media posts about GameStop stock that appeared in late January had many people cackling with laughter, and just as many stumped. The memes appeared in various formats and, without context, were bizarre. In this instance, however, the actual event was more absurd than the memes it birthed. In short, amateur traders on Reddit cost hedge funds billions of dollars. GameStop is a chain store group in decline, with mass closures announced last year. The price of stocks was incredibly low and Wall Street bet on its closure and shorted the stocks.
In short, shorting is when Person A owns a share of stock that they lend to Person B who is the short seller. Person B then sells this borrowed stock to Person C. If the price of the stock drops, Person B buys back the stock for a lower price and returns it to Person A, keeping the difference. If the price of the stock rises, Person B has to purchase back the stocks at a loss in order to return them to Person A. It is possible for one stock to be borrowed multiple times. Therefore, when Redditors on the r/wallstreetbets forum began buying up GME stocks, it caused the value of those stocks to rise. By 27 January, two major short-sellers, Melvin Capital and Citron Capital, closed after taking a 100% loss from betting that GameStop stocks would fall, as reported by The Guardian.
Essentially, a group of Redditors upended Wall Street and made for some great memes.
The obstruction of the Suez Canal
This meme was hard to miss – a huge ship lodged in the Suez Canal, and a meme often used to represent student struggles. In March, the Suez Canal was blocked for six days by the Ever Given, a 200 000 tonne container ship. On 23 March, the Ever Given encountered a sandstorm and was grounded, lodged sideways in the Suez Canal. By 28 March, 369 other vessels were lined up and waiting to pass through the canal. BBC News reported that around 12% of global trade passes through the canal each day and data from Lloyd’s List showed that Ever Given was holding up around 9.6 billion dollars of trade every day.
This has to be one of the most wholesome things to come from 2021. Josh Fight was a meme, pool noodle fight, and a fundraiser. It had the same energy as the Area 51 Raid, except for the fact that people actually showed up.
Josh Fight began in 2020 when a University of Arizona student, Josh Swain, began a Facebook group with nine other people named Josh Swain, and invited them to meet on 24 April 2021 to fight for the name. The Facebook message was a joke, but Josh Swains and hundreds of others gathered on the specified date at Air Park in Lincoln, Nebraska.
After the initial message was posted on Twitter last year, several Reddit pages were started and countless memes emerged. The hype seemed to have died down, but evidently, Josh Fight was taken seriously by many across America. The original Josh Swain helped organise the event when it became apparent that people were planning on showing up. He set up a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital & Medical Centre Foundation in Omaha and managed to raise $12 000. People who attended the event also donated food to the Lincoln Food Bank.
The Josh Swains faced off in a game of rock-paper-scissors, and the others battled with pool noodles. Ultimately, a four-year old Josh (Little Josh) emerged victorious.
Some honourable mentions While these memes stood out because of their real-world bizarreness, this year has shown us so many gems, from the vaccine memes on Twitter— “if you’ve ever dated a Pretoria hun, you don’t need to worry about what’s in the vaccine”, was a big ouch— to the Gorilla Glue meme, and The Weeknd’s iconic Super Bowl halftime show. Whatever the rest of the year has in store, at least there will always be reason to laugh.