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The 15 memes that made 2018

The best memes born this year. 

At this point, it’s cliche and boring to say that 2018 was bad, because everything has been bad for the last two and a half years (and things are certainly not going to start getting better). “Ugh… 2018!” punctuates every release of a terrible news story this year, along with quote tweets of “This is the most 2018 thing I’ve ever seen”, and it has done in 2016, 2017, and will probably do so in 2019 from the first second of the new year.

However, sustaining us through these dreadful years that grow increasingly worse with each passing day, are the memes. The internet is full of many horrendous things – many of which are due credit for making the last few years so bad – but the memes the internet generates give us some semblance of sanity and at least a small reprieve. These are the memes that made 2018 – the ones born, rebirthed, and spread this year that made us forget about the awful things happening around us.

1. The “absolute unit” sheep

2018’s first big meme was actually a regeneration of a classic meme: the classification of the “absolute unit”. Typically used ironically to play on the laddish trope of “absolute lad”, the phrase absolute unit is adhered to items that are large, whether they be people, buildings, or other chunky objects.

Coming from an unlikely source, the Museum of English Rural Life (the Merl) went viral in April for sharing an archive image of a ready-for-shearing sheep in full fluff with the infamous descriptor.

Know Your Meme – a meme encyclopedia – credits the Merl with reinvigorating this dying meme and inspiring a new iteration of absolute unit memes.

2. Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy announcement

There had been months of speculation around Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy before she announced on 4 February that she had, in fact, given birth to a child two days before. Accompanying the announcement, in classic Kardashian klan style, was an 11-minute documentary-style video of vlogs from the youngest Jenner and her friends and family, as well as actual video and audio of Kylie in labour, addressed to the newborn baby.

In the video, one particular clip caught the internet’s attention: Jenner alone in a room at 34 weeks, addressing the camera, looking very pregnant. Although she never said it in the video, someone with an eye for #viralcontent slapped on the text “Next thing I knew, I was pregnant” and with that the internet gave birth to a brand new meme.  

3. American Chopper

American Chopper is/was an American reality television series that originally aired from 2003-2010, but made a glorious return in 2018. The show, focused on a workshop making “chopper-style” motorcycles, is based around owners and father-son duo Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. (going by Senior and Junior, respectively). In the 2008 season, Senior fired Junior from the shop in a heated, televised argument:

 

 

This argument became a five-panelled meme technically in 2011, but didn’t gain any real traction until this year. Some have hypothesised that its emergence is based on its resonance during Trump-era class politics.

4. Don Jr and divorced dad memes

Talking about Donald Trump is both boring and dreadful, but his pitifully eager-to-please eldest son, Donald Jr., became an unforgettable meme this year. Following his divorce, Don Jr donned leather jackets, posted copious pics with beautiful women, and tried very hard to show that he was not actually upset about his divorce and is doing just fine, thank you very much.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Donald Trump Jr. (@donaldjtrumpjr) on

I unpacked the memes and how he started them in a piece here.

5. The trumpet boy

A meme built for object labelling, the trumpet boy felt like the perfect meme for our current times. Showing a boy blasting his trumpet into the ear of a distressed girl covering her ears, it became the most poignant graphic representation about how every day on Earth feels like at the moment.

Anime recommendations. from r/Animemes

6. The yodelling Walmart boy

Potentially the best meme this year was of unsuspecting 12 year old, Mason Ramsey, an aspiring singer from Illinois who became famous after yodelling in a Walmart in March. He almost immediately became a massive meme, appeared on Ellen, sang at Coachella, and then managed to write, record, and release a single, “Famous”, by October.

7. Theresa May curtsying

Theresa May is arguably the hardest person to watch this year. From the EU to her Tory colleagues to even the young Conservative party members campaigning to get her out, she has grown from strength to strength in personal humiliation – each new saga making her an even more pitiful character. However, perhaps more than her trials with Brexit, her greatest undoing is her deeply, painfully awkward self. And in particular, Theresa May’s inability to curtsy made her into a tragic meme that dogged her through the entire summer.

Related: The “Theresa May dancing” meme was born this year, after her terrible display of skeletal moves on a trade trip to Africa. However, I truly don’t feel any of us have the energy to go through another set of images of Theresa May trying to laugh at herself, but really just feeding the fire of people laughing at her, so if you really want to look at some you can do it yourself here. I will not indulge you.

8. Is this a pigeon?

Much like Distracted Boyfriend meme, the “Is this a pigeon?” meme has the greatest chance of longevity beyond the usual meme cycle of a couple of months. Taken from a scene in the 90s Japanese anime TV series The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, the meme became the perfect platform for dunking on the idiots filling your Twitter feed and patronising out of touch celebrities and politicians.

9. Elon Musk smoking weed

Elon Musk. Marijuana. The Joe Rogan podcast. It’s a meme that writes itself. Essentially, the tech billionaire went on the the Joe Rogan podcast and smoked weed (retroactively claiming it was to impress his current girlfriend, musician Grimes). The internet then proceeded to tear him to shreds. 

10. thank u, next

Ariana Grande has had a year. She got engaged then not engaged, had an album, “Sweetener”, and several hit singles drop, suffered the loss of a former boyfriend, Mac Miller, and featured on the covers of both Vogue and Elle in a matter of months. However, at the end of November, she released the music video for her single “thank u, next” (a song dedicated to the value of her break-ups) which featured imagery from Noughties teen movie favourites, such as Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and Mean Girls.

In the song, talking about three past lovers, Grande sings “One taught me love/One taught me patience/One taught me pain/And that shit’s amazing”. Of course, her fans immediately starting turning this into memes:

Grande herself also participated in thank u, next memes, but mostly in the way of making memes out of the song title itself.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ariana Grande (@arianagrande) on

 

11. Kim Kardashian shouting at Kourtney Kardashian

Kim Kardashian was inevitably going to make this list, with all of us pathetically playing into Kris Jenner’s masterplan to keep her five daughters in our brains at all times. In an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians that aired in August, Kim snaps at her older sister Kourtney, frustrated at her sister’s lack of enthusiasm when trying to organise a family photoshoot for one of the Kardashian-Jenner brands.

“Maybe if you had a fucking business that you were passionate about then you would know what it takes to run a fucking business, but you don’t, so don’t act like you know what you’re talking about,” she shouted.

Inevitably, the rant instantly became a meme, applied to lemonade stands, Farmville, and Arrested Development.

12. Porn memes

And what would 2018 have been if not for the porn memes dotting the site from the start of autumn this year? Memes, predominantly featuring the porn duo dubbed “The Cock Destroyers”, were all over Twitter – many of which you can see (and read about) in my piece on the trend here.

13. Oh Lawd He Comin

The internet likes fat animals. This is an indisputable fact. So it’s no surprise that this “chonk” (internet slang for “chunky”) chart, appearing to detail the technical weight classifications for heavy cats, became a lasting meme in 2018.

14. Arms grasping each other

Also known as the “epic handshake”, this meme graphic has existed for the last ten years; a still shot taken from the film Predator (1987). In previous iterations, the clip or image were largely used to mock the scene from the film, or to just simply signify two groups or people coming together in a common cause – the media posted on its own, unedited. But in May 2018, a Twitter user posted a version of the meme with each of the arms labelled, with the two groups coming together over common cause (labelled on the fists clasped together). 

After this, the graphic went viral and different arms grasping each other were added to the mix to create further iterations of the meme.

15. Big Cow

Knickers, the Big Cow, snuck in under the wire, making his meme debut in late November. “Australia’s biggest steer” was “saved from the abattoir” because he was too honking large to get through the door.

Obviously, because everything is terrible and the internet loves abnormally-shaped animals, Knickers, standing amongst his normal-sized, soon-to-be-slaughtered colleagues, became an immediate wholesome meme.

What fresh hell 2019 will bring us, we can’t yet say. But take solace in the fact that, for as long as the internet exists, people will continue to make memes. Regardless of what may happen in the coming months (see: food stockpiling, nuclear apocalypse), rest assured that there will always be people online making fun of our medicine shortages and churning out morbid, humorous despair.

Happy 2018!

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.