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“Grain entrapment” is what happens when a person steps into a large pile of grain and gets sucked down and swallowed up. The grain acts like quicksand: any attempt to gain purchase and climb out will only pull more grain down on top of you. It’s a real phenomenon that kills people, but not very many people. It’s a rare and bizarre way to go, which makes it ideal fodder for a morbid meme.
Tumblr has long had a passing fascination with grain entrapment, according to the comprehensive Tumblr meme blog memedocumentation. Tumblr user sexhaver posted an excerpt from the “grain entrapment” Wikipedia article a year ago, along with a video demonstrating what grain entrapment actually looks like:
“Grain entrapment” remained part of the background noise of Tumblr throughout 2017, thanks to posts like this one from aesths:
But it didn’t become a full-blown obsession until someone started a dedicated grain entrapment Tumblr account in October. It began with a reblog of sexhaver’s post, but steadily expanded into new grain entrapment memes:
Its most popular posts have thousands of reblogs.
One popular way of using the grain entrapment meme is as a metaphor for a bad, seemingly inescapable situation.
But it’s gotten to the point where any reference to grain entrapment can be part of the meme, whether it makes sense or not.
Although the meme assuredly wouldn’t be funny to the families of the dozen or so people who die in grain entrapment accidents every year, it’s a phenomenon far enough removed from the lives of most Tumblr teens that they seem to feel comfortable joking about it.
Although memes are primarily driven by pop culture and current events, those aren’t the only places they can come from. The teen influencers who birth new memes are typically in high school and college, so some of their work is inevitably inspired by history, science, or just plain esoteric trivia. Even if the obscure knowledge itself isn’t funny, the act of sharing it builds community and creates a self-perpetuating inside joke.
Or, as Tumblr user argumate put it, “anything that involves people dying at the mercy of impersonal forces seems to resonate with people in this day and age.”
A cynical view, perhaps, but hard to deny.
And that’s how, in 2017, someone posted “despite all my rage i am still just entrapped in the grain,” and it made sense to hundreds of people.
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.