2020: A Meme Essay

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2020 was…well it happened. We don’t need to talk about it. But is it too soon to laugh about it? In the spirit of the internet and the unique way that memes can unite us in relatable camaraderie, here is a rundown of this historically garbage year, told in memes, TikToks, tweets and other mindless content.

Caveat: Some news events have been intentionally left out of this roundup because they’re just too raw to make fun of. This year in review is meant to be comic relief, not an invalidation of the seriousness of these world events.

None of the memes expressed in this article reflect the chortles or giggles of Forbes.com.

January

It quickly became clear that 2020 would not be anybody’s year.

It seems like ages ago that the U.S. killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a Baghdad airstrike, and everyone thought World War III and a draft of American citizens into the army was imminent.

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in the Senate on January 16. The internet, understanding that these proceedings were purely performative, did it’s thing, meme-ifying Nancy Pelosi and taking digs at Trump’s notes, written in Sharpie, that he used to talk to reporters.

We first really started hearing about coronavirus in January, and it’s almost cute to look back and ponder our naivety as we worried about slow shipping of our goods from China.

Australia was well and truly on fire, but Aussies still found time to take the piss out of ScoMo’s (Prime Minister Scott Morrison) handling of the fires and decision to take a Hawaiian holiday in the middle of the crisis.

February

Trump gave his State of the Union speech on February 4, which Nancy Pelosi promptly ripped up, calling it “a manifesto of mistruths.” Trump was acquitted of two impeachment charges the next day.

March

You already know…Rona really came for us all in March. But damn if we didn’t find a way to cut through that icy tension with some high quality memes about hand sanitizer, toilet paper, quarantine and Zoom calls.

Remember when we were all united against that cringey video of celebs butchering John Lennon’s “Imagine”???

Oh, and Tiger King! The perfect slice of Americana to distract us all from the nightmare before us.

April

Quarantine continues, bread baking commences. April was the month where we’d spend one day being grateful for having time to regrow our scallions (FINALLY), the next alternating between sobs and laughter at our own depression, the next rejoicing at the clearest skies in our lifetime and the next wondering if Trump thinks we think $1200 is a lot of money. But regardless of how you spent your time, you never knew what time it was.

May

The first murder hornets were spotted in the U.S. in May. This is around the time most people started to prepare for an inevitable alien invasion or just close their eyes to the horrors of the world…

…That is, until all our eyes were opened when George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. The collective anger of watching a cop kneeling on the neck of an unarmed man for nearly nine minutes, of a pandemic that took jobs and lives disproportionately among black Americans, led to protests and riots in Minneapolis that spilled out into a demand for justice and racial equity across the country and around the world.

June

Black Lives Matter protests took off as protesters cried out to defund the police and demanded justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a number of other black citizens killed by the police. Even amidst a movement as pure as Civil Rights, cynicism found a home in meme culture as people all over Instagram posted black squares and companies filled our inboxes with dubious pledges to support black lives.

July

July brought with it a series of maelstroms as BLM protests continued alongside anti-mask protests. Misinformation about wearing masks abounded, often propagated by the Trump family (as seen below). Social media influencers gathered for irresponsible parties and Mary Trump gave the public juicy goss about what Donnie was like as a child-demon. Companies took their ads off Facebook to protest the social network’s lackluster handling of hate speech, but unfortunately did not put a dent in Zuck’s net worth.

August

With that summer heat came the most fire song of 2020: W.A.P., by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Some (I) might say this song, from the music video to the lyrics to the conversation surrounding it, was the most 2020 song of 2020. It was culturally on par with the late stage capitalism vibe of Tiger King, but far more contentious. Depending on who you asked, W.A.P. is either a sex-positive, feminist anthem or a degeneration of polite society. And if you asked right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro about the soaking subject of this ballad, you might be given a gynecological diagnosis. The best he could do with his limited experience.

In the same month, Axios political correspondent Jonathan Swan interviewed Trump about his handling of the coronavirus and the upcoming election, wherein Swan refused to entertain Trump’s lies. The conversation was as entertaining as it was shocking, even by today’s standards of sensationalism, and made for many a good meme, such as the cross-referential jibe below.

September

As if we didn’t burn enough of the planet with the Australia fires, “smoke generating from a pyrotechnic device” at a gender reveal party in California (the burniest state in America) caused massive wildfires that have scorched 4 million acres of land as of the time of this writing. The internet responded accordingly.

September 18 marked the tragic death of Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, reminding us all that this year could indeed get worse.

The first presidential debate capped off the month, an event that many of us watched in horror through our fingers when those fingers weren’t furiously live-tweeting about the degradation of structured debate, the inability of moderator Chris Wallace to keep a lid on Trump and the displeasing sound of old white men talking over each other.

In short, memes were the only good thing to come out of that debate.

October

Many of us awoke on October 2 to news alerts that President Trump tested positive for Covid-19. Was this karma for Trump’s consistent claims that coronavirus was a hoax and mask-wearing was unnecessary or a long game bamboozle that Trump would walk away from alive in an attempt to discredit the seriousness of the virus? Still unclear, but Occam’s Razor tells us to look for the simplest answer, which is that he probably did contract the virus but had all the medical backing that most Americans can’t afford to see him through.

The Vice Presidential Debate between VP Mike Pence and VP-elect Kamala Harris took place on October 7. The event was characterized by Pence’s frequent interruptions of Harris and Harris’s barely contained cynicism. But the real star of the show was the fly that landed and remained on Pence’s white hair for a couple of minutes while the two debated racism and policing.

November

After much tightening of sphincters in angst as election results took days to come in, many across the nation breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden won. And he won again and again as Trump refused to accept defeat, demanding recounts in key battleground states and falsely claiming fraud.

Things were really looking up in November when just days after Biden’s victory, Pfizer announced that its vaccine, created with German biotech company BioNTech, was over 90% effective.

December

The United Kingdom became the first country to approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, prompting a wave of celebratory memes.

But then a new strain of coronavirus was detected in the U.K., prompting many countries to ban incoming flights in an effort to stem the tide.

To add insult to injury, at the time of this writing, it’s also looking fairly likely that the U.K. will leave the European Union at the end of the year without a deal.

Meanwhile in America, Mike Pence became the highest ranking member of the Trump administration to receive the vaccine, and on live TV no less, prompting anger among essential workers at the irony of Pence being vaccinated before them, and confusion among anti-vaxxers who looked up to Pence as a symbol of many of the conspiracy theories they hold dear.

2020, the worst year in modern history?

Obviously not. (See: 1918, The Spanish Flu; 1940-41, The Blitz; 1941-1945, The Holocaust; 1945, The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; etc.)

Nonetheless, we’re glad it’s over. Here’s hoping 2021 is actually our year.

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