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In 2014, Vice published an article called “Here’s What Your Eyes Look Like When You Take Different Drugs.” As an excuse to run a bunch of photos of people under the influence, they called a hospital and asked how the human eye reacts to different narcotics. Disappointingly, Vice learned there’s no real way to tell what someone’s on by reading their eyes.
But the photos of eyes with the names of drugs over them were amusing, though, and now they’re a meme.
The meme always starts with the same three images from the Vice piece—cocaine, marijuana, and beer—and a fourth photo is added as a punchline. In the original iteration of the meme, the punchline was “dick.” Sure, it’s a juvenile sex joke, but it opened everyone’s eyes (sorry) to the potential of this template.
Now Reddit’s r/dankmemes subreddit is full of good eye memes. Basically, just take anyone who’s metaphorically high on something, and add it to the bottom of the stack. YouTuber Filthy Frank has an infamous prank that involves eating ravioli out of his shirt pocket in public. This is what his eyes look like on ravioli:
And here’s Karl Marx, high on seizing the means of production:
And Carl Wheezer from the oft-memed cartoon Jimmy Neutron, when he’s on croissants:
The eyes format is a sort of cousin to an optically-themed meme, Expanding Pupil, which features the tagline “the pupil of your eye can expand as much as 50% when looking at something you love.” The 4-panel template included a space to paste in the beloved thing of your choice. Here’s an example:
But the “eyes on drugs” meme doesn’t have to be about something you love, or even something you’re high on. You can find another connection between your punchline and cocaine. Here’s one example that references the cartoon The Fairly Oddparents, and the dad character’s hatred of his neighbor Dinkleberg. On Reddit, it was headlined “some things just ruin your life.”
The creative possibilities are boundless. After United Airlines violently removed a passenger from a flight earlier this month, people added the man’s distraught face to the meme and slapped on the United logo. This is what a person’s eyes look like on United:
Like all good templates, it’s also being used to call back to other memes and fuel internet culture’s tendency toward endless recycling. Here’s a pairing with a big hit from earlier this year, the “I see you’re a man of culture as well” meme:
And here’s the “It is Wednesday, my dudes” frog when he sees that it is Wednesday:
It’s not clear why a years-old Vice article suddenly inspired a meme (maybe it has to do with the weed holiday, 4/20?) but it has all the signs of a template that will stick around for a while and may even be picked up by mainstream “normies” on Facebook. It’s very flexible and has a low barrier to entry (all you need is one punchline or pop culture reference and the barest sliver of Photoshop skill) and the original joke combined two perennially viral topics: sex and drugs. If you’re looking for a template that will make dank meme nerds’ pupils dilate by as much as 55 percent, look no further.
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.