In a bank branch, a 10-year-old boy named Stan Marsh stands in line to deposit his $100 check from his grandma. His dad has brought him there to teach Stan the important life lesson of saving money. The clerk commends Stan for letting his money work for him and puts it into a money market mutual fund, reinvests the earnings into foreign currency accounts with compounding interest — and promptly loses all of it.
The “And it’s gone” meme, as it’s now known, is an interesting starting point to begin thinking about memetic history, especially as it relates to memes as a response to financial crises. The episode itself aired in March of 2009, six months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the same month that the popular memegenerator.net first came online. (The template itself, however, did not arrive until 2012.)
This brings up an interesting pair of questions. First, why did the most enduring meme about the financial crisis only come about four years afterwards? The answer to this one is easy: The internet just wasn’t ready back then. In 2008, Twitter’s groundbreaking “hashtag” feature had only been out for a matter of months, Facebook was still years away from its IPO (the concept of a “timeline” instead of a “wall” would wait a similar amount of time), and memegenerator.net would not hit the internet until Citibank stock finally started to claw its way back up from rock bottom.
So, fine, it’s not shocking that an iconic meme did not immediately come out of the crash, but here’s the second question. Why didn’t it come out of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in 2011? “And it’s gone” postdates the movement by several months, and it’s mildly shocking that for all the time spent in Zuccotti Park, it did not have a meme to show for it. Adbusters, the creative activist magazine which began the protest that kicked off the occupation, was meme-adjacent from the start.
The “People’s Mic” is one such example of the memetic tendencies within OWS. Denied a permit to use a microphone, the organizers used a unique form of communication that used the protestors to amplify their messaging, creating a decentralized, cooperative public sphere. However, despite the memorable chanting and protests, OWS did not produce any lasting memes.
To be fair, this was only the earliest iteration in what would be a decade defined by the internet realizing itself. The next year, just a month before “And it’s gone” came out, Kony 2012 ripped through the internet becoming the first video to reach 1 million likes on YouTube and bringing about a public discussion on what viral movements meant in the face of lazy “clicktivism”. The next year, the Harlem Shake proved that with sufficient viral momentum, it was easy to get hundreds of people to show up and make an offline event happen for an online trend.
Fast-forward to 2020, where a meme featuring two men discussing monetary policy has gone viral, showing the evolution in the world of memes. The characters in this meme are two Wojacks, an evolution from and improvement upon, the rage comic figures of old, making them much more template-like and customizable. The writing is also no longer top-text/bottom-text, a format that at this point dates almost any meme. Lastly, it has an AnCap (anarcho-capitalist) flag as the complainant’s bowtie.
The evolution of memes and their role in historical and cultural contexts is an interesting development in the internet age. It shows how social and political movements give birth to memes, and how the internet has played a vital role in their creation and dissemination.
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