I’m on the internet for more hours than I’d like to count every day. A large portion of this time is spent looking for memes, identifying social trends, and trying to monitor what happens on Twitter without losing my mind. As anyone who is Extremely Online can probably attest, the internet changes how you think about everything. And 2018 really warped my perception. I can’t look at a Pop-Tart anymore without thinking, “is a Pop-Tart a ravioli?” A friend shows me a picture of their dog taking an afternoon nap and I say, “Big Mood.” And when I see moths hovering over an artificial light, I think of moth memes.
If you were on the internet at all between September and October, you likely saw a moth meme. The images usually show a close-up photo of a moth asking for a lamp. Sometimes these images are combined with other memes, like Distracted Boyfriend or Slaps Roof of Car.
As the meme grew in the fall of 2018, people started using different photos of moths and applying a specific language to the insects, usually with umlauts over the vowels. The meme likely went viral so quickly because the joke is so easy to understand. Everyone has seen a moth attracted to a light source.
But in a crowded year of popular memes, do moth memes really stand out? Other memes like “It’s over for you bitches” and Tired SpongeBob seem more relevant to 2018, a year that we all struggled to get through. But moth memes are ultimately about desiring something that isn’t good for you. The visual of a moth flinging its body over and over again on a light fixture is an apt metaphor for 2018. That’s why I think it’s the meme of the year.
The image of the moth that kicked off the meme was originally shared in the r/creepy subreddit. It’s a grainy shot of a moth sitting on a windowsill. Because the image is so close-up, the moth has a human-like quality. We can see its glowing eyes, antenna, and detailed wings. The moth appears to want to come inside. And since we all know that moths are attracted to light, the first comment on this Reddit post was a hit: “Hey buddy you have any LAMPS?!”
By late September, moth memes were on every corner of the internet. Some people liked the meme so much that they got tattoos of it. In a short period of time, the moth went from dull relative of colorful butterflies to beloved internet entity.
Before, I shuddered at the sight of moths fluttering around a lamp. Since most moths are nocturnal, I associated moths with other pests that come out at night. Still, moths are obviously not the worst kind of insect. They don’t sting, they don’t bite, and they generally don’t cause harm to humans—although moths can ruin a favorite sweater. Since moths are sort of neutral, they’re the perfect subject for a meme.
The internet gave moths a personality, and it’s that of a creature asking politely for the object of their desire. But that object, artificial light, does not exactly benefit moths. It’s generally believed that moths are drawn to light because they use the moon as a navigational tool. When they see a light that looks like moonlight, they head toward it, often repeatedly hitting the source in confusion. Flying into an artificial light often leads to a moth’s demise.
When you realize why moths really want that lämp, the meme takes on a darker tone. I open Twitter everyday despite what I saw on the website the day before. If I didn’t need to be on Twitter for my job, I’d probably still find myself opening the app over and over again. Like a moth to the flame.