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The meme economy is a thing, and it’s falling apart right now.
The meme economy is in a serious slump. We might even be approaching a meme recession.
On Reddit, a group of enthusiastic wonks trying to quantify the ups and downs of the meme economy, tracking the fortunes of each new dank meme on a simulated stock market. Like real market analysts, they don’t always agree on what to buy—or, in this case, share—but this month, there seems to be consensus, and it doesn’t bode well for the Trump administration.
Reddit’s meme_economy subreddit, the Verge reported earlier this month, has always been full of speculators discussing which memes are good and dank, and which are dead and need to be retired. But a group of 12 people decided to take that speculation to the next level and try to quantify it in a mock stock market called—what else?—the NASDANQ.
The NASDANQ hasn’t officially debuted yet, but r/meme_economy is becoming more formal in other ways, like the release of this professional-looking Meme Insider news alert about the dire post-holiday meme drought:
The thesis presented here by deros94 is that the me_irl subreddit, one of Reddit’s primary drivers of meme content, has been “a barren wasteland” of forced memes and rehashed ideas. The best evidence and the worst symptom of the meme shortage is the rise of “10k upvotes” posts on r/me_irl. These lackluster posts promise that the poster will perform some action—such as typing the script of Bee Movie on a typewriter—if the post receives 10,000 upvotes. The posts were upvoted, then mocked and parodied, resulting in both unironic posts and spoofs flooding the front page. It’s an ouroboros of repetitive content, and r/me_irl is swallowing itself whole because of it.
The best thing to come out of “10k upvotes” was a video of a man giving his cat 11,453 stern looks. It’s OK, but it hardly justifies the kudzu of “upvotes” posts that are choking the subreddit this month.
The report also points to a glut of “dusty” old memes and a lack of faith in original content. That played out in the first few days of the year, as r/me_irl and r/dankmemes posters attempted to force the return of John Lemon, a weak meme first seen in 2011.
Is everything lost? Will we ever see a return to the (relatively) good ol’ days of 2016, when icons like Harambe and Robbie Rotten drove the meme economy to new peaks, and innovative forms like Increasingly Verbose led to a market boom?
There is some reason to believe that the meme drought will pass soon. Some hypothesize that January has always been about forced memes: As people attempt to leave behind the previous year, they attempt to artificially hurry the natural processes of virality. It doesn’t work: Virality can not be hurried. This lesson has been written over and over in the obituaries of January memes like blobo, zozzle, frailsnail, and “tell that to the kanjiklub.”
A recent Meme Insider article posits a “January effect” in the meme stock market, a seasonal spike in the value of reliable memes. Whether it’s a casual holiday crowd that’s just getting into memes, or veterans who want to make safe bets instead of taking a chance on some forced January meme, the beginning of the year drives people toward the familiar.
Meme Insider recommends riding out January with some nice, safe Wholesome Memes until February and March bring us a spike in edgy new content.
The meme community is already starting to show signs of life, with a temporary boost from Trump inauguration memes in the latter part of the month. The great white hope that was #saltbae has already become oversaturated and is now entering the domain of normies, basics, and Facebook moms, but there’s some good new material on the way to replace him.
Look for Lamb Sauce, the Gordon Ramsay meme that’s been bubbling up all month, as well as newcomers like Italian Memes, Trump Plagiarism, and Multiple Personality Captor to bring an end to the drought.
And, no matter how bleak things appear, don’t throw good money after bad by participating in a forced meme. When John Lemon starts to look dank to you, you may have a problem.
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.