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Has there ever been a more iconic duo than the United States of America and oil? As the U.S. marks the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War, pointing out America’s historic hunger for the ol’ black gold has come back into vogue. Teens who were in Pull-Ups during the war are now gleefully making memes about the U.S. military springing into action at the merest mention of oil, whether it’s in the Middle East or on someone’s greasy face.
this new meme about the usa invading everything that has oil including paintings and skin cells is fucking amazing lmao like i dont wanna say its funny cause its tragic but its like... so genius— hetero=zero (@taldorei) March 21, 2018
Let’s take a look at some oil memes in action:
I found my new favorite meme pic.twitter.com/QGB1bH5sSV— teen beach movie enthusiast (@increasethesoup) March 20, 2018
Lovin these oil memes! pic.twitter.com/aPA1YcI2RP— Jacon Plubkett (@amediumdrink) March 19, 2018
In these examples, you can see that the meme has two basic modes. On one hand, you can joke about literal oil, whether it’s baby oil, cooking oil, or sebaceous secretions on the skin. On the other, you’ve got jokes about the word oil, typically found hiding inside other words (aluminum foil, Susan Boyle, and so on). Sometimes people go through extreme contortions to find oil. Bet you didn’t know there was oil in The Lion King, for example:
or Harry Potter:
Oi these fuckin oil memes I’m dead pic.twitter.com/83OAWzFUUh— .S.A.T. (@SammAlveyy) March 20, 2018
Oil memes can also be combined with other memes, like the “I’m something of a scientist myself” meme from Spider-Man:
These memes originally took off on Reddit, but they’ve also become big on Facebook and Twitter over the past week. A dedicated Facebook page, American Oil Memes, racked up 115,000 followers after just a week. The internet’s hunger for oil memes seems to rival the hunger for oil itself. And, like oil, these memes are both rich and deep.
Through February and early March, meme enthusiasts had been starved for original content. They were surviving on the last scraps of huge January memes like Ugandan Knuckles and Tide Pods, hoping for something substantial to come along. American Oil Memes appear to be that thing. Not only are they funny and full of creative variations, they’re also a teenage commentary on America’s imperialism and aggressive foreign policy.https://twitter.com/StrengthBuild/status/976478251018276864
In 2002, an “internet meme” wasn’t a thing, let alone a primary mode of online communication, or a tool of political warfare. Peace protestors at the time had “No Iraq War” and “Bush Lied, People Died” signs, but those didn’t connect with the kids the way a good meme can.
They may be too late for that chapter of history, but oil memes are still highly relevant as a new generation grows into political consciousness and learns about the conflicts of the recent past.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.