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The Best Memes of 2018

We’re riding our American Choppers to the Tide Pod factory to do surgery on some grapes

Ringer illustration

Hey …

[Rolls down window.]

We just wanted you to take another look at these memes.

Tide Pods

Jason Concepcion: Everything old is new again, it seems. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, unable to resist the forbidden fruit, so are we tempted by the Tide Pod, with its ripe fruit hand-feel, its cake-like color scheme, and its promise of sweet, chemical-tang deliverance from this mortal coil. Yes, 2018 is the year that eating Tide Pods went mainstream.

I could try, perhaps, to unwind this meme, which grew out of the sordid internet subgenre of imbibing things you definitely shouldn’t (drinking bleach or taking bong hits of ghost pepper, for instance). We could discuss how the meme is mainly a troll, a way for those fluent in Online to differentiate themselves from the squares, the olds, the cops, and the brands by creating a panic around an activity which no one is actually doing. But what’s the point? These hysterias around some aspect of youth culture pop up every decade or so—rock music and satanism, violent video games, butt-chugging, Juuling.

This year, it was Tide Pods.

What better encapsulation of the demented era in which we live could there be? I like to imagine some future archaeologist—sifting through the shattered hard drives of this long-dead planet to assemble, in fragments, a picture of a forgotten culture—reading the opening line from the Wikipedia entry for “Consumption of Tide Pods” (“Tide Pods are a line of laundry detergent pod from Procter & Gamble’s Tide brand, which can be deadly if ingested.”) and thinking to themselves, “LOL, what the fuck.”

Shoot a 3, You Coward

Nicole Bae: NBA Twitter is teeming with memes (clearly), but the one meme that has stuck with me over the year is “Shoot a 3, you coward.” There’s not much to explain: It’s just telling a coward (usually Ben Simmons, who hasn’t hit a 3-pointer in a game since President Barack Obama was in office) to shoot a shot at the 3-point line. In the time since the original tweet was posted, there’s been an evolution from “take a three” to “shoot a three.” (Big difference). Now, shirts have been made, but the world has still seen zero 3-pointers made by Ben Simmons.

I’m also attached to this meme because it introduced me to the strange, delightful nook of the internet that is Weird Celtics Twitter. If you called Robert Williams III “Timelord” or laughed at these chyrons, you’ve already been acquainted with WCT. If you haven’t, welcome.

Meet Marcus Smarf, Janos, and The Ojeleye Factory. Weird Celtics Twitter so quirky and weird and wholesome that I’m worried that I sound like a narc as I earnestly type out this blurb. In any case: WCT, love you. @Jack_Michael17, thank you. And Ben Simmons, shoot a 3, you coward.

Leftist Gritty

Lindsay Zoladz: It’s in the eyes. Look deep into those white, unnervingly eyelid-less pools and tell me that’s the face of fiscal conservatism. Although Gritty—the beloved, absurd, homemade-Muppet-y new mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers—was gifted to the world only a few months ago, he already feels like a veteran citizen (’scuse me, Gritizen) of the internet, America, and, yes, the next generation of progressive activists. Leftist Gritty memes can probably be traced to the progressive magazine Jacobin, which several days after his debut tweeted the relatively benign observation “Gritty is a worker.” From there things got, well … grittier. When President Trump visited Philly in early October, several protesters took to the streets with Gritty-centric signs, including one that told Trump, “Gritty say ‘G.T.F.O.’ of Philly.” (Another thing about which Gritty is agnostic: grammar.) Some online comrades created the Twitter account Fellow Worker Gritty (“Just your average anticapitalist mascot”), and before long Gritty memes had become so omnipresent among progressives that The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed reading “Gritty belongs to Philadelphia, not to far-left activists.” But the fact that had to be argued in a national newspaper just proved it was too late: Gritty was antifa now.

“Gritty communicates the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism,” Bijan Stephen wrote in a lengthy article for The Verge which, you know what? Sure. This year was long and often difficult, and sometimes you just needed a little Gritty. In the wake of the mind-numbingly dispiriting Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I sent my sister one of my favorite Gritty memes, a photo of the nine justices of the Supreme Court flanked by four Grittys, with the caption “This is the future liberals want.” “No way!” my sister replied. “We need a Gritty majority!” Spoken like a true Gritizen.

J.R. Smith

John Gonzalez: Sometimes you’re not exactly sure where a meme comes from or why it exists at all. And sometimes something happens and you’re instantly aware that it’s destined to live on in internet infamy. Pretty much everything J.R. Smith does falls into the latter category. His career has given us one glorious meme after another. But even by his standards, his Game 1 gaffe in the NBA Finals was glorious. By dribbling away from the basket in the final seconds of the opening clash against the Warriors, thereby sinking the Cavs and buoying Golden State, he didn’t just create another meme of his own—he unwittingly roped poor LeBron James into playing a starring role in it with him. Without Smith having another inopportune brain lapse, we wouldn’t have been treated to incredulous LeBron striking that iconic, memeable pose. And beyond that, if J.R. had made the smart play, I wouldn’t have gone searching for answers about him making the not-smart play after the game—which means my colleagues couldn’t have made fun of me straining to ask J.R. about the meme he had just authored. It was a meme that begat a meme. It was all very meta.

Oh Lawd, He Comin’

Michael Baumann: This is my cat, Olly. He weighs 22 pounds and is 24 inches long from the tip of his nose to the base of his tail. Or in internet humor parlance, He Chonk. The vet says Olly is in good health, and it’s OK for him to weigh that much because he’s such a L O N G B O I, but that we should feed him special diabetes management wet food so he doesn’t turn into a Heckin’ Chonker or even a HEFTYCHONK. This has been a great year for large animal memes, between Absolute Unit and Big Cow, but the chonker/Oh Lawd He Comin’ meme is in fact based on actual veterinary medicine—the dark truth of this meme is that by the time animals on the fun-sounding end of the Chonk scale (MEGACHONKER or OH LAWD HE COMIN) are usually genuinely unhealthy. It’s a shame. I wish all pets could be happy MEGACHONKERS, but unfortunately we’re cursed to live in an imperfect world.

Shannon Sharpe

Miles Surrey: Shannon Sharpe has been detonating spicy takes opposite of Skip Bayless since 2016, but it wasn’t until this year that the internet truly appreciated the man’s expressiveness. Sharpe’s demeanor is not quite like that of Bayless’s former sparring partner, Stephen A. Smith: a man who, like Samara from The Ring, always seemed liable to jump out of the screen yelling about how Phil Jackson once signed Lamar Odom, WHO WAS ON CRACK.

Instead, Sharpe’s passion is less aggressive, a bit more endearing, and occasionally strange—like the time he wore an actual goat mask and a LeBron James jersey to support his stance that LeBron is the basketball GOAT.

Sure! What’s made Sharpe my favorite meme of 2018 is that his antics haven’t been reduced to just one meme; they’ve been spread across several for versatile purposes. There’s Sharpe repeatedly saying “That ain’t no problem” in a high-pitched voice, originally the product of a Lakers debate that has since been used for anything from puppies to waiting for spicy chicken at Popeyes (same). He shouted “WHOA WHOA WHOA ... WHOAAAAAAAAAA,” the understandable reaction from your mom when you go five miles over the speed limit. People are trying to manufacture Sharpe memes out of any semi-emotive expression he makes!

Is Shannon Sharpe the best sports debater on the planet? I honestly couldn’t say. But he is the Meme GOAT of 2018. Take a bow, Shannon: You earned the mask.

Punctuation Memes

Jack McCluskey: “We’re wordsmiths.” That’s what one of my first bosses called it, it here being a copy editor at a national sports website. And suddenly making tenses agree, changing its to their, and fact-checking names and stats was akin to heating a razor-sharp blade, hammering imperfections from the steel, and plunging the red-hot metal into water to set the work (a.k.a., hitting publish in the CMS).

Sure, it was a little pretentious. I was 22; I ate it up.

Years later, dear reader, I do not harbor delusions of grandeur about my humble role at The Ringer dot com (great website!). I do, however, appreciate a good punctuation meme:

There’s a lesson to be learned here: Love the em dash—and I do—but forsake not those humble marks, for they all have a role to play. (Except for the exclamation point, apparently. You can almost feel stodgy journalism professors the world over nodding in approval.)

Zendaya Is Meechee

Kate Halliwell: Like all the best memes, the appeal of “Zendaya Is Meechee” feels impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t online to witness it firsthand. Leading up to the release of the animated comedy Smallfoot, comedian Gabriel Gundacker tweeted a song making fun of the nonsense names in the movie. Behold: a musical genius.

The internet seized onto the freakishly catchy tune and didn’t let go. Zendaya got in on it! Lin-Manuel Miranda got in on it! Esteemed Ringer employee and meme enthusiast Sean Yoo even ended up attending a live final performance of “Zendaya Is Meechee” in Los Angeles, and it was everything we could have wanted.

They Did Surgery on a Grape

Kate Knibbs: When information gets stripped of context online, the results can be awful. Innocuous comments are made to look offensive. Jokes can look like insults. News gets distorted into nonsense. But sometimes, it can produce magic, which happened this year when someone took a four-year-old news story about doctors testing out a new surgical tool, described it in the vaguest terms possible, and produced a delightfully mysterious, surrealist meme. Sometimes, they did surgery on a grape.

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They did surgery on a grape

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I don’t know what to say about the meme that made me laugh the hardest and the longest this year, except that I hope the grape is OK, and I hope they are OK, because, as we all know, they did surgery on a grape.

Absolute Unit

Ben Lindbergh: A cursory search of The Ringer’s Slack logs for the phrase “absolute unit” returns references to the following lads, each of whom someone on staff was in awe at the size of: Knickers the cow; Sebastian Janikowski; a dangerously plump dachshund; a fluff ball loosely shaped like a dog; Willians Astudillo; Malik McMorris; Artem Dzyuba; the head of Phil Jones; a thicc bear; Jeremiah Masoli; CJ McCollum; one of Big Boi’s pitbulls; England’s World Cup club dogpiling after beating Colombia; Bone Bone the cat; Chubbs the cat; and Michael Baumann’s cat, Olly (twice—see Michael’s contribution above).

That versatility made “absolute unit” 2018’s most essential meme. Concise, easily explicable, equally effective via voice, photo, or text, and more celebratory than derisive, it was the caption we hadn’t known we’d needed. As Google Trends data reveals, it survived most memes’ boom-and-bust success cycle and has hardly lost popularity in the last six months, an internet eternity. In awe at the slope of this line. Absolute longevity.

American Chopper

Danny Heifetz: I had a friend who studied memes in college. Yes, really. Higher education has already entered a brave new world. Anyway, he told me that memes were just the 21st-century version of comic strips. I didn’t really understand what he meant until I saw, and fell in love with, the American Chopper meme.

It works for Lord of the Rings. It works for brutalist architecture. It works for cats. It’s at its best when it gets meta. (Really, really meta). It works for everything because everything in our society is about yelling. It can even work for this staff post.

A Star Is Born

Alyssa Bereznak: As a child of the internet, I am clinically allergic to earnest emotions. Smile and say something nice to me, and I will find a way to ruin the moment by breaking eye contact and making a bad joke. Not Ally Maine. In the scene that would come to be known as the “hey” meme, the A Star Is Born protagonist has just spent a whirlwind night with a mega-country/rockstar who quite literally stumbled into her life. As they part ways, he has one last thing to say to her:

When the ASIB trailer went viral, the internet latched onto this moment. Bradley Cooper’s “take another look” dialogue was switched out with urban legends about Mr. Belvedere, Nick Foles’s feud with Tom Brady, and “Ain’t you that rah rah bitch?” among many other jokes. Lady Gaga’s reactions were switched in with various internet heroes. Delightful meditations on other parts of the trailer—specifically Lady Gaga’s wail cut and pasted into various other pop culture—spread from there. All of it was a way for us cynics to mock the clear-eyed emotion of a movie so hyped that it couldn’t possibly be good. Then the film premiered, and we were proved wrong. The memes that had been generated in the interim morphed from mocking commentary into a stan shrine. It was a lovely, unexpected moment on the internet, where skepticism is more usually rewarded than optimism. Let us all remember the surprising life span of A Star Is Born memes the next time we immediately mark something heartfelt as cheesy.

The Moth

Danny Chau: My favorite meme of the year takes from an innocuous, low-res photo posted on Reddit of a moth staring back at the photographer, eyes glowing from the reflective light, hunched over like Zorak from Space Ghost, looking like a haggard but benevolent addict. It doesn’t take much for a meme to explode; all it took for the moth meme to manifest was a simple caption from user drqxx: “Hey buddy you have any LAMPS?!”

The internet’s meme economy subsists on the power of semiotics amid humankind’s infinite referentiality. A meme can weave meaning from accumulated knowledge spanning millennia, turning mundane personal curiosities into universal epiphanies into a great way of procrastinating on mounting assignments. The moth meme explores a common observation that has, to this day, no widely verified explanation: Moths love diving into artificial light. The inexplicable absurdity of the “moth to a flame” effect is a perfect conduit to the inexplicable absurdity of the human condition. We all have our personal lamp, and like the moth, we’ll probably die before we truly learn what it reveals about us.