The internet can be a dangerous, hateful, fun-crushing place. It can also be a well of unimaginable creativity and ever-expanding hilarity. Today, we honor that latter part with the best memes of 2017.
Alyssa Bereznak: Memes live and die by their malleability. Of all the viral images that graced our feeds in 2017, Distracted Boyfriend was by far the most effortlessly applicable. On its own, the Shutterstock image is unremarkable, a cheesy scene meant to depict SEO-friendly terms like “jealousy” or “cheater.” But the moment some brilliant internet user plopped white boxes beneath the photo’s three characters, it morphed into an endlessly relatable template to express humankind’s constantly shifting interests. The boyfriend with the wandering eye suddenly took on roles as grand as “America,” as sweeping as “pop music right now,” as intimate as “me.” His female counterparts represented binaries as expansive as “socialism” versus “capitalism,” as granular as “the second key change in Beyoncé’s ‘Love on Top,’” versus “the fourth key change in Beyoncé’s ‘Love on Top.’” Like all healthy memes, Distracted Boyfriend ran through a predictable life cycle: It was drawn over, Photoshopped, rearranged, and mashed together with other memes. Eventually it saturated our feeds to the point that the only acceptable new Distracted Boyfriend entries were meta. The models were even recognizable enough that their other Shutterstock images were molded into fan fiction. It all made for very good internet. And the original crux of the meme managed to encapsulate the feeling of this momentous year—a time when the news cycle accelerated to warp speed, when the most basic tenets of our belief systems and government suddenly felt wobbly and uncertain, and distraction was an unavoidable part of being online. Thank you, anonymous Shutterstock models who never wished to become famous this way, for giving us the visual language to describe one clusterfuck of a year.
Nothing but Respect for MY President
Molly McHugh: Over the course of this year, I forgot that this meme actually had anything to do with someone actually showing President Donald Trump actual respect. I probably blocked all of that out as a way of self-preservation. Thank god the original dumb tweet was co-opted as both a way to mock our current president’s supporters and to show respect to those who deserve it. Like this cat:
The Snapchat Hot Dog
Danny Heifetz: For the first 22 years of my life, I never knew love. But that changed when I first laid eyes on Snapchat’s dancing hot dog. The smile. The dance moves. The two squiggles of ketchup and mustard. It was dumb. It was childish. It was perfect. And so Snapchat’s first foray into augmented reality became an overnight cultural icon that could hit the funny bone of the darkest portions of my generation, but could also entertain small children.
Unlike many of the memes on this list, the dancing hot dog (TDHD) doesn’t require an explanation. One day a dancing hot dog appeared as a Snapchat filter; the next day it was ubiquitous monoculture. No meme brought absurdism into the mainstream as successfully as TDHD this year.
In the above video, a hot dog dances above a boiling pot of hot dogs, singing, “All my friends are dead.” Either you find that funny, or the internet is already leaving you behind.
The Terrence Howard “Mayne” Tweets
Micah Peters: The absolute best things on the internet are the things that make less and less sense the more you look at them, for reasons you can’t explain to anyone else. I can’t tell you precisely why people started Photoshopping Terrence Howard’s face onto things, but the resulting artistry of Terrence Howard “Mayne” tweets doesn’t need context to be funny. It barely requires assembly. I have the knowledge that he had a relaxer and (breathily) said the word “mayne” 257 times in his Oscar-nominated Hustle & Flow performance, and that Terrence Howard’s … Terrence Howard–ness shoehorned into random situations is an instant recipe for comedy.
Jason Concepcion: Justice does not exist for powerful dudes. The recent churn of stories about stomach-turning revelations of rich and connected men leveraging their positions in messed up ways have many things in common; chief among them: very few prosecutions. Sure, lots of greasy dickwads, many of whom are already filthy-rich, lost their jobs. How many of them will face charges? Of those paltry few, how many will see the inside of a cell? That’s even before we get to the miasma of potential criminality and treason wafting from the White House itself.
With justice a faint shadow of a shadow, a public accounting is the best and only option left. “Retire bitch” exists as part of these cathartic ad-hoc public hearings. When an old male politician votes to shred the last shreds of the social safety net or to defund programs for children, or when an actor is accused of sexual assault, or when @Jack fails to suspend Nazis from Twitter for reasons that are clear only to him, “retire bitch” is our only recourse.
Needless to say, “Retire bitch” had a great, busy year.
Disproportionate Teddy Bear
Kate Knibbs: I have never clicked on anything in my entire life faster than I clicked on the Motherboard headline “Duplicitous Teddy Bear Shocks Amazon Shoppers With Grotesquely Long Legs.” Nor have I regretted anything less, as the accompanying images and text made me laugh harder than anything else in this infernal year. Please read the story, and also watch this video:
Katie Baker: In a year when AOL Instant Messenger finally made that door-closing sound for the last time, nothing captured (and modernized) the ol’ away-message ethos quite like the Student Athlete meme, a performative emoji-explosion of striving and grinding, quoting scripture, and taking oneself way too seriously. (The gag took off, fittingly, during March Madness.)
barista: name please?— memeindex (@memeindex) March 16, 2017
student athlete: You'll Know My Name When I Make It Grind Never Stops I Stay Hustlin Family 1st Philippians 4:13
With its insufferable innocence and its eyes-on-the-prize enthusiasm, the Student Athlete meme at once mocked and celebrated the social media contributions of our nation’s most dedicated young varsity track stars and basketball redshirts, and it did so at an important time: While I had thought about selecting Milkshake Duck or “This is the future that liberals want” in this space to best illustrate the fraught national vibe of 2017, doing so just seemed like too much of a downer. And as any student-athlete can tell you: You can't Keep me ⬇ 4 Long, cause I'll #riseNgrind, and Fly high'til the DaY I DiE #BEATSTATE #BEGREAT
banker: welcome to Chase bank— meme god (@MEMESG0D) March 13, 2017
student athlete: Chase? the only thing i'm chasing is my dreams ✊ keep grinding RIP grandma Romans 8:1
Amanda Dobbins: Armie Hammer is a person—a very tall and handsome movie star, as luck would have it—but he is also a meme. I know this because every time Armie Hammer does something, the internet has a field day. Armie Hammer is dancing? Let’s start a Twitter account about it. Armie Hammer disagrees with a BuzzFeed writer? Let’s do a thousand blog posts (and a podcast) about it. Armie Hammer had his balls digitally removed from certain short-short shots in Call Me by Your Name? Let’s all take a moment, as one meme-appreciating community, to reflect on how lucky we are to have this particular meme in our life. Vote Armie for Best Oscar Meme of 2017.
Alison Herman: Twitter’s most influential typo wasn’t so much 2017’s best meme as its most inescapable one. The covfefe phenomenon might also be the most time-specific of all this year’s social media moments; other memes burst forth and flicker out of existence in a matter of days, but if you didn’t happen to be logged onto Twitter dot com in a roughly two-hour window on May 31, you were likely left cold by the tsunami of next-day explainers that carpet-bombed whatever joy there was in the leader of the free world being unable to string together a coherent sentence.
By May, most of us had become desensitized to President Donald Trump’s slow drip of misinformation and vitriol, amplified rather than moderated by his unlikely position as president of the United States. Covfefe, however, broke through the noise, and Twitter proceeded to melt down into utter hysteria in the ultimate example of laughing to keep from crying. The highest office of the land is occupied by someone who may or may not have passed out mid–rage tweet; to pass the time until we found out for sure, we made a bunch of jokes that didn’t make sense because “covfefe” is not a real word, whatever conspiracy theorists might have us believe. 2017: It’s a trip!
Right in Front of My Salad?!
Miles Surrey: In a gay porn called Private Lessons Part 3, a woman comes home to find a lovely salad prepared for her by a barely clothed chef, whom her husband is discretely trying to bone in the kitchen. And then she says it: “Are you guys fucking? Are you serious?! Right in front of my salad?!"
are y'all really financial and emotionally stable? right in front of my salad??! pic.twitter.com/jeqOTYdVVG— (@nochillsue) August 5, 2017
The meme reached its peak in August, but it could use a comeback. The FCC is repealing net neutrality, and who knows what that could do to the porn that’s responsible for incredible internet moments like this one. Is the FCC really going to do this, right in front of my salad?!
The Icebox-Plum Meme
“This Is Just to Say”
I have enjoyed
the “plums in the icebox” meme
that was very popular on
And which was based on a 1934 William Carlos Williams poem
you were probably familiar with
having been forced to memorize it
in junior high
Moonlight, You Guys Won Best Picture
Lindsay Zoladz: There are no do-overs in life—except that time Best Picture was announced at the 2017 Oscars. Who among us cannot remember the drama beat for beat: Warren Beatty looks confused; Faye Dunaway cries with all her heart, “LA LA LAND!”; people in headsets scurry behind the La La Land producers as they give their acceptance speeches (one of whom overhears the news and mutters at the end of his, “We lost, by the way, but, you know”). Then from the chaos emerges our hero, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, to deliver his instantly iconic line: “I’m sorry, no. There’s been a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture.” Most importantly, for our purposes, he holds up a white card to the camera.
Holding up a white card to a camera is basically an invitation to be memed, and on that surreal night in February, the internet did not waste a second. The Moonlight, You Guys Won Best Picture card created a fantasy world where the best picture did win Best Picture (er, where Bee Movie won Best Picture; this is a meme we’re talking about here), where the best album won the Album of the Year Grammy, and, of course, where the winner of the popular vote became the president of the United States. Perhaps the inevitability of that last joke was what made the Moonlight card such a quintessential 2017 meme: It felt, for one surreal moment, like everyone’s collective groans had suddenly altered the course of history. If only we had harnessed that superpower a few months earlier.
If Homeboy Is Coming Through With These?
bella hadid talk like a undercover cop pic.twitter.com/ENtObBtRxs— Young Black Jesus (@zekNcashe) October 5, 2017
Nicole Bae: It took only a 59-second clip from a longer appearance on Complex’s “Sneaker Shopping”—and three (3) mentions of the word “dope”—for Bella Hadid to be collectively roasted, and memed, on Twitter. Hadid, in an Off-White belt and a pair of Off-White Jordans, pointed to a pair of sneakers she would not deem “dope” or “fresh,” and then said [clears throat, switches to a narc voice], “If homeboy is coming through with these? It’s quiet. No, it’s quiet for him. But, like, if he comes through in theeese ... homeboy’s gonna like, get it.” It’s exquisite content on its own, but the memes are even better:
if homeboy comes thru in these,,, it's quiet for him— BRANDON WARDELL (@BRANDONWARDELL) October 9, 2017
but if he comes thru in theeeeese, homeboy's gonna like,,,, get it pic.twitter.com/EDsD9L9A63
Bella, thank you so much for your service.
Meryl Streep Yelling
Jordan Coley: The best things are those whose utility isn’t immediately obvious, but manifests later. It’s that Tom Clancy paperback that you realize works perfectly to stabilize your desk’s short leg. It’s that weird spatula thing in your kitchen that’s great for scratching your back with while you binge watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s that screencap of Meryl Streep cheering from her spot in the audience of some award show that, for some reason, is debilitatingly funny when paired with a Missy Elliott lyric. Or an Usher lyric. Or a Jim Jones lyric. Or an Alicia Keys lyric (sort of). Or really, almost anything:
TV: I have a structured settlement but I need cash now.....— Gino but people call me the Best Buy Sauce Guy (@BeGinoRuss) March 18, 2017
Me: CALL J G WENT WORTH 877CASHNOW pic.twitter.com/lFJYkty2Jt
It turns out Streep was cheering on Debbie Reynolds at the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards. When I first encountered this meme eight months ago, I did not know that. I didn’t need to know that. In fact, I still haven’t quite figured out why this meme is so great. Is it because, with the way her head cocked back slightly and her hands cupped next to her mouth, she looks like the lone parent cheering at her son’s JV basketball game?
That’s exactly what it is.
I Love This Woman and Her Curvy Body
Kate Halliwell: In early August, an Instagram post by Robbie Tripp went viral and was celebrated everywhere from E! News to the Today show as a body-positive expression of love for his “curvy and confident wife.” Sounds great, right? Not so much. I’ll let the post speak for itself.
|| I love this woman and her curvy body. As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as "chubby" or even "fat." Then, as I became a man and started to educate myself on issues such as feminism and how the media marginalizes women by portraying a very narrow and very specific standard of beauty (thin, tall, lean) I realized how many men have bought into that lie. For me, there is nothing sexier than this woman right here: thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll, etc. Her shape and size won't be the one featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan but it's the one featured in my life and in my heart. There's nothing sexier to me than a woman who is both curvy and confident; this gorgeous girl I married fills out every inch of her jeans and is still the most beautiful one in the room. Guys, rethink what society has told you that you should desire. A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character. She's real. She has beautiful stretch marks on her hips and cute little dimples on her booty. Girls, don't ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated. There is a guy out there who is going to celebrate you for exactly who you are, someone who will love you like I love my Sarah. || photo cred: @kaileehjudd
After just a few hours of viral success, Tripp’s “brave” post began to draw criticism and contempt from all corners of the web. “Strong contender for least fave type of male feminist is ‘man who thinks liking a curvy woman is revolutionary,’” wrote one correct Twitter user. From the rapidly spreading criticism, however, grew an endlessly entertaining meme, as unimpressed Twitter users appropriated Tripp’s words and matched them with everything from obese cats to pictures of Christopher Meloni sassin’ it up:
I love this woman and her curvy body. Growing up, I was often teased for my attraction to g pic.twitter.com/unTAJaqgNV— yayi (@bbcushion) August 5, 2017
Performative, fake-woke male feminism—let’s leave it in 2017, shall we? The memes can stay.
White Guy Blinking
Ben Lindbergh: It’s been four full years since Drew Scanlon, the white guy behind White Guy Blinking, made the fateful expression that took over the internet in 2017, and nearly three since the combination blink–eyebrow raise first appeared in GIF form. It could be a coincidence that Scanlon’s face rose to prominence at a time when “quizzical” became the country’s default expression, but it’s more comforting to think that White Guy Blinking was waiting to emerge as a meme when we most needed it.
“I think people are kind of getting tired of … being outraged all the time,” Scanlon, a video producer at the gaming website Giant Bomb, told me and Jason Concepcion when we talked to him shortly after the meme reached critical mass. The key to the GIF’s broad applicability, Scanlon said, is that it registers disapproval but also deescalates tense situations. “It’s just like, ‘Hey man, I’m just gonna sit here and react like this, I don’t need to get up in arms about things,’” Scanlon said. Something makes us mad, and then the face leaves us feeling a tiny bit better than we did before.
“I expect my 15 minutes of GIF fame to last maybe another two minutes,” Scanlon said in February, but the blink isn’t going away. Sadly, we still need it.
Victor Luckerson: The average person uses only 10 percent of their brain’s capacity, I learned watching the trailer for the Scarlett Johansson action movie Lucy several years ago. What if we could leverage all 100 percent of our gray matter? What insights would we gain? The biggest question isn’t who would benefit from a world of hyper-intelligent humans—it’s whomst’d.
Galaxy Brain intuits what we already know about our species: Give people near-limitless access to knowledge on an instantaneous global communication platform, and they’ll use it to be obnoxious assholes. The meme typically features four diagrams of a human brain evolving from a listless black blob to a technicolor deity firing enough synapses to form a new star in the cosmos, with each panel featuring a more outlandish take. The meme worked best as a critique of the Internet Content Machine’s insatiable appetite for opinions. Take this summary of the news cycle about the kids that crashed their dad’s BBC interview in March, and the woman who dove in to save the day:
The phrase “Galaxy Brain” lives on as a shorthand for excessively complex explanations for the world’s problems. It’s a constant reminder that even with our brains working at maximum strength, there’s no way to make sense of 2017.