Logically, because there are only so many people in the world, there must be a finite amount of potential snark on the Internet — a maximum rate at which the planet can convert depressing reality into funny memes.
If ever there were a week to test that limit, we just had it. In seven days, one after another, two multibillion-dollar corporations and the White House press secretary were ridiculed for unrelated embarrassments — a sequence of fail so rapid that no single meme could reach peak creativity before the next one interrupted.
And yet, the world has found a way.
Pepsi: We own the biggest PR disaster of the year.
United: Hold my–
Sean Spicer: NOT EVEN HITLER GASSED PEOPLE!
— Michael Luciano (@michaelsluciano) April 11, 2017
Behold, the uber-meme: encompassing Pepsi’s attempt to make Kendall Jenner a civil rights hero, the violent “re-accommodation” of a United Airlines passenger, and Sean Spicer’s unique conception of the Holocaust.
All three debacles, distilled into 140 characters.
Pepsi: Yo check this out!
United: LOL hold my beer
Spicer: You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it.
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) April 11, 2017
Hat tip to the Daily Dot, which catalogued the phenomenon before us. As New York Magazine notes, it fuses individual Pepsi, Spicer and United memes within an antecedent meme known as “Hold my beer,” which started months ago, when Pepsi was still pure.
We’ll look at more examples of the uber-meme in a moment. But first, a quick postmortem of its evolution, even at the risk of recalling the cultural horrors of April 4 through 11, 2017.
The Internet was first put on high alert the Tuesday before last, when Pepsi released what it briefly tried to defend as “a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony,” but was in fact this:
Elahe Izadi wrote a cringe-by-cringe breakdown of the ad here. In brief: it’s about the fashion model Kendall Jenner joining a themeless peace march and defusing a confrontation with police by handing an officer a can of Pepsi.
Instantly accused of diminishing police violence and appropriating the civil rights movement to sell soda, Pepsi pulled the ad within 24 hours and apologized (to Kendall Jenner).
But no apology would have stopped the ensuing memes — the dominant strain of which inserted Pepsi into horrible scenes from the Civil Rights era.
Those might have progressed further, but on Monday the world became distracted by viral videos showing a United Airlines passenger being violently dragged down a plane aisle so a crew member could take his seat.
The videos were horrific. But as Abby Ohlheiser noted for The Post, memeing began a little more than half a day after the evicted passenger’s blood was removed from the jet.
Wow now is not the time United pic.twitter.com/VzCoL30xZA
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) April 10, 2017
There’s evidence of early experiments in a Pepsi-United meme merger around this point. But as United issued a seemingly unending cascade of defenses and semi-apologies for the incident, the airline’s PR disaster became the world’s primary snark sink.
Until Tuesday afternoon — almost exactly one week after Pepsi’s ad debuted — when White House press secretary Sean Spicer tripped over Godwin’s law on live TV.
Speaking at a press briefing about a recent a massacre in Syria, Spicer said not even Hitler had used chemical weapons.
“He gassed the Jews!” someone shouted from a crowd of stunned reporters.
Spicer eventually apologized, though not before launching a proto-meme by telling reporters he understood how Hitler brought Jews “into the Holocaust center.”
We just want to clarify that "Holocaust center" is not included in the definition of "concentration camp."https://t.co/zRKLeDeXwV
— Dictionary.com (@Dictionarycom) April 11, 2017
Given the subject matter, it’s not clear how many people might have attempted Holocaust memes. But at this point, the rapid chain collision of Pepsi, United and Spicer disasters had unleashed a new strain of creative energy upon the Internet.
Spicer: I got this
United: I'M NOT FINISHED YET https://t.co/g7ALOsMAtQ
— Eric Vazquez (@EricVazquez64) April 12, 2017
Thus was born the uber-meme. It is strong.
While its individual elements disrupted each other over a hectic seven days, limiting the amount of mockery that Pepsi, United and Spicer might have otherwise faced, their collective form may have already achieved peak snark, according to the best metric we know of.
As the Daily Dot observes: the memes are mostly bad now.
United: We just did the worst thing.
Me: Hold my beer…I just need to put my wallet away. Ok. Thanks so much.
(Am I doing Twitter right?)
— Anna Kendrick (@AnnaKendrick47) April 11, 2017