- Buttigieg, Klobuchar come together to laugh at Bloomberg Wednesday 10:29 PM
- Bernie Sanders calls Bloomberg’s wealth ‘grotesque’ to his face Wednesday 9:53 PM
- Angry Bloomberg asks debate moderators if he’s ‘chicken liver’ Wednesday 9:29 PM
- Elizabeth Warren savages everyone else’s healthcare plan Wednesday 9:07 PM
- K-Pop stans help push ‘Pooping for Kaitlin’ hashtag mocking Kent State gun girl Wednesday 8:54 PM
- Fans speculate after learning Pop Smoke posted address prior to fatal home invasion Wednesday 8:11 PM
- Jar of human tongues found in Florida has people shook Wednesday 6:39 PM
- Video of Blueface teaching Obama lookalike to dance is turning heads Wednesday 5:58 PM
- ‘No one has the range’ for this meme Wednesday 5:21 PM
- Mom confronts man who followed daughter through grocery store in viral video Wednesday 5:05 PM
- Major study linking vaping to heart attacks gets retracted Wednesday 4:36 PM
- George Zimmerman is suing Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren Wednesday 2:55 PM
- Netflix’s ‘Horse Girl’ accused of ripping off 2017 indie film Wednesday 2:52 PM
- The Genyus Network is a safe social space for stroke survivors Wednesday 2:20 PM
- MAGA hat-wearing dog finishes last in ‘Today Show’ fan vote—still named winner Wednesday 2:03 PM
It’s a trope as old as noir itself, one that’s expected in any action film where a weary, downtrodden, one-time hero is called upon to once again save the world. Our fresh-faced new characters go looking for some still-living legend, only to find him—and it’s almost always a him—at the wrong end of a whiskey bottle, sucking on a cheap cigarette. They approach with great reverence and hesitation, addressing him by a title he’s all but forgotten.
From amid the smoke and shadow comes some movement. Our man stubs out his cigarette and lights a new one, offering the gruff, ambiguous reply:
“I haven’t heard that name in years.”
Sure, the line takes many different forms—”He’s long gone,” or “You came all this way for nothing,” or “I don’t know who you’re talking about”—but it’s always recognizable. And our grizzled vet knows what’s coming next.
What makes for a good cliché, of course, also makes for a great meme: formula. Which is how we got to this Thomas the Tank Engine joke.
And the countless variations that followed, most of which trade on the long absence of whoever or whatever you were seeking in the first place.
Like Microsoft’s Clippy, for example.
Or a certain pop star known for spelling out the name of a fruit.
Or crime-fighting reptiles.
Or a forgetful fish.
And so on.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The “haven’t heard that name in years” meme, in its retrospection, is the perfect vehicle for reviving other memes that—in the usual way of the lightning-paced web—are quickly discarded and become vague historical footnotes amid so much digital debris.
Dat Boi, for example, peaked just a few months ago, but it already feels as if years have passed since the zenith of his stardom. Therefore, you get this:
Ditto the dead ape Harambe, whose (faked?) death feels a lifetime ago.
And SpongeBob SquarePants and his boss, Mr. Krabs, whose memehood is now largely archival.
And their fellow memeable cartoon character, Arthur.
Then there’s the living, swimming meme known as Michael Phelps.
As well as Pepe the Frog, ancient by meme standards.
And, of course, Bee Movie.
Naturally, the format isn’t limited to other memes, and it works with just about everyone (and everything), so long as a cigarette is involved.
The most closely related forerunner of this meme might be “feel old yet?” or “want to feel old?” template—in which a semi-forgotten celebrity, child actor, or fictional character is revealed to have aged ridiculously, thereby putting into perspective the rapid passage of one’s own life.
It’s fascinating to see the ways in which these jokes attempt to resolve a cognitive dissonance about how quickly time flows when you’re surfin’ the ‘net. Things get old fast, memes perhaps most of all, but especially even the basic infrastructure that allows ideas to spread and content to go viral. Before you know it, the very network you’re on right now will be sipping cheap gin in a greasy dive bar. It’ll hear someone come through the creaking front door, order a beer, and ask, “Information Superhighway?”
“I haven’t heard that name in years,” the internet will say.
Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions, and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'