As the decade comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the one thing that really defined the 2010s on the internet: memes. So many twisted, ridiculous, delightful, confusing, and — yes — dank memes.
Memes, of course, existed well before 2010, but it was during this decade that they really penetrated the mainstream and reached absurdist new heights in their form. At the beginning of the 2010s, we’d get a major new meme every few months. In 2019, thanks to the ubiquity of social media platforms in our lives, we get a new one nearly every day.
It’s so much to keep up with that even those of us, who spend all our waking hours sifting through the internet, have a hard time remembering what happened ten days ago, much less ten years ago. Even still, we asked our merry band of culture reporters to try to set aside their brain worms and pick their one — and only one! — favorite meme from this chaotic decade.
Chloe Bryan, “They did surgery on a grape” (2018)
✨ who they did surgery on based on ur sign ✨
aries: a grape
taurus: a grape
gemini: a grape
cancer: a grape
leo: a grape
virgo: a grape
libra: a grape
scorpio: a grape
sagittarius: a grape
capricorn: a grape
aquarius: a grape
pisces: a grape
— noah 🌞 (@gayasslovestory) November 24, 2018
“They did surgery on a grape” is technically a copypasta, but that term doesn’t do it justice. This meme truly has it all: sonic beauty, low-stakes absurdism, and a surprising resistance to oversaturation. Plus, it’s true: They really did do surgery on a grape. And it went very well.
Morgan Sung, Vine compilations (2017)
Look, most Vines aged incredibly poorly but for a brief few years, they were everything. When Vine died a quiet and undeserved death in 2017, we all mourned. But the real soul of dark internet humor is the Vine compilations that survived.
With titles like “vines that keep me from ending it all” and “classic and rare vines to watch when you lose your will to live,” the compilation videos are perfect for burritoing up in your depression nest and feeling some remnant of joy from when the internet was simpler. They’re quick, they’re funny, and they’re easy to quote – nothing encapsulates the human experience better than sitting a dark room with friends and chanting “Road work ahead? I sure hope it does!” in unison.
TikTok is fun, but it’ll never match the chaos of a 10-minute video made up of people being dumbasses for six seconds each. It’s 2019, and I’m still watching Vine compilations.
Nicole Gallucci, “Apparently Kid” (2014)
The decade has arguably brought too many memes, but no meme since 2010 has brought me more joy than Noah Ritter, aka “Apparently Kid.” In 2014, 5-year-old Ritter was interviewed by a WNEP Scranton anchor at the Wayne County Annual Fair in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. He took the mic and simply went off, using the word “apparently” over and over again while ranting about being scared “half to death” on the super slide and watching the Powerball with his grandpa.
Ritter had spunk, a one-of-a-kind voice, and, quite frankly, he acted like an 80-year-old man in a child’s body. It was refreshing, wholesome, and genuinely made me laugh out loud. In 2014 and 2015, Ritter appeared on The Ellen Show several times and unsurprisingly delivered more comedy gold.
To this day I watch the clips of him at the Texas State Fair, walking with dinosaurs, and vacationing in Hawaii whenever I need a laugh. The auto-tuned remix of his news interview will apparently be one of my favorite songs for the rest of time. Noah, wherever you are, I hope you are well.
Anna Iovine, “Math Lady” (2016)
The Math Lady meme perfectly encapsulates my feelings — and the internet’s collective feelings — about the decade, particularly the latter half. We can all relate to the look of absolute confusion, of being presented with a problem we cannot solve. The parodies, especially the Ariana Grande one, are just as excellent.
Andy Moser, Baby Yoda (2019)
Baby Yoda brought unimaginable cuteness and a sense of stability to 2019, just when we needed it most. He’s versatile: You could put a Baby Yoda image next to pretty much any text and it would work. He’s cute, funny, and relatable — a real triple threat. And he’s got wholesomeness to spare. I couldn’t be more grateful that Baby Yoda became the internet’s new favorite son this year, and I sense he’s going to be with us well into the next decade, too. #BabyYoda2020
Brian Koerber, “Blinking White Guy” (2017)
My favorite meme of the decade is a GIF of Drew Scanlon reacting to his co-worker in a Giant Bomb video from 2013. You probably know it as “Blinking White Guy.” The GIF sort of blew up in Feb. 2017, and while its use has tapered off in the last two years, it’s definitely stood the test of time. It has the perfect amount of lighthearted saltiness to get your point across without being too mean, and it still makes me smile when I see it to this day.
Recently Scanlon has used the GIFs popularity to drive donations to the National MS Society, a non-profit that funds research and advocates for those with multiple sclerosis.
Cassie Murdoch, “Harambe” (2016)
It started when Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, was shot to death by zookeepers after a small child got into his enclosure. But the dark tragedy quickly took on a life of its own. It spawned meme after meme after meme, and basically laid waste to the internet for the remainder of 2016.
The Harambe oeuvre was exceedingly dark and often filthy, yes, but its deep sickness brought people together en masse. Perhaps the best thing about it — and no doubt what allowed it to hang on for so long — was that most brands didn’t want to touch something so depraved. So it never got Little Debbie’d to death.
A dead 400-pound gorilla somehow managed to give shape to all the bleakness that we were stewing in during the summer of 2016. But it was also just a fun way to twiddle our collective thumbs while we waited for the world to fall apart. It finally petered out after a few years, but it remains, for me, the era when the internet was at its very best. And it surely trained us to survive the Trump Administration by meme-ing our way through it.