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It’s the meme of the moment.
In certain circles of the internet—4chan, parts of Reddit, and a handful of video game and pickup artist forums—there’s a worldview that men can be divided into two groups: lonely, awkward virgins and powerful, sex-having “Chads.” It’s usually the self-identified virgins selling this trope, and they’re only kind of joking. If there’s any benefit to this warped, oversimplified view of society as a primitive sexual competition, it’s that it has produced some pretty good memes. And now, these memes are starting to spread into the mainstream, where they’re rightly viewed as bizarre.
Here’s a typical Virgin vs. Chad meme, which illustrates the basic traits of the two archetypes.
The “Virgin” archetype is everything that unsuccessful “incels” (short for “involuntarily celibate”) dislike about themselves: insecurity, poor posture, and a general fear of social interaction. The “Chad” archetype is everything they simultaneously hate and envy in other men: cockiness, entitlement, and a strong jawline (the Chad meme is very focused on chins for some reason). Sure, these outwardly confident Chads might be hurting on the inside, but the meme and its perspective on life don’t allow Chad any complexity.
According to Know Your Meme, the “Virgin vs. Chad” illustrations originated on 4chan’s /r9k/ forum. For those not familiar, /r9k/ began as an experiment: a board where a bot called Robot 9000 would delete “reposts,” ideally improving the board by focusing it on fresh content. Now it’s a discussion forum for incels and other perpetually single males, who refer to themselves as Robots and find solace by cursing “normies” and Chads together.
Robots have produced dozens of Virgin vs. Chad drawings, outlining how these two archetypes approach everything from studying to shopping to working out.
A further iteration of the jokes makes fun of popular characters by classifying them as Virgins or Chads. Video game characters are especially susceptible to this:
When it comes from R9k’s “robots,” this kind of humor can be genuinely self-deprecating, although not without plenty of ironic exaggeration. It gazes upon Chad with both admiration and loathing, and it looks at the Virgin with a combination of despair and the ability to laugh at oneself.
As one Tumblr user put it, “people taking virgin _____ and chad ________ memes completely serious on their face when the chad is supposed to be outrageously over the top and exaggerated for absurdist humor value is probably the only shit even funnier than virgin/chad memes.”
But when the meme leaked out of r9k and onto other sites, it becomes completely absurd. Rather than making jokes about the real people the characters represent, the joke is now that someone would treat these characters as valid at all. No one could possibly think the world’s men could be divided into Virgins and Chads, right?
Tumblr, where fanfiction is just part of the drinking water, recently discovered the two characters and put its own spin on them. As one poster explained,
“you know what’s honestly really funny about the virgin/chad meme is the discrepancy between communities who view chad as an antagonistic and douchey foil to the totally pathetic, but relatable in a sort of self deprecating way, virgin (i.e. r9k, where this meme originated) and communities who interpret chad as a confident, well-adjusted and on-top-of-life kind of guy who’s probably actually nice enough, certainly more pleasant to be around than the virgin (the most common way i see it on [Tumblr]).”
A lot of the Tumblr memes treat Chad not as a puffed-up and arrogant rival, but as a confident example of how to act. You can see this in some of the video game edits, where favorite characters are depicted as Chads and overrated ones are Virgins.
You can also see it in some of the Chad fan art, which makes him look … kind of cool?
Another interesting dynamic occurred once Chad and the Virgin made it out of 4chan: people started “shipping” them—i.e., some now see the Virgin and Chad as a loving, fictional couple.
VirginxChad is relationship goals sorry i'm not cryiNG YOU'RE CRYING
— space cadet (@lazysquire) November 3, 2017
chad x the virgin will end up becoming the jock x nerd ship the fujos like, and its my fault
— ☃️kendymas☃️ (@revolocities) November 3, 2017
i ship virgin walk with chad stride
— pand☆ra (@moekatakakura) August 19, 2017
The best analogy is to an old Tumblr meme, “Me vs. Other Girls.” That began with a Tumblr fanartist comparing herself (“normal,” “nerdy,” “just right”) to “trashy,” “orange,” and fake “Other Girls.” The implication was that the nice nerd was being passed over for shallow, stereotypically attractive women. It carried the same resentment as the Virgin vs. Chad meme, but without the evident self-loathing.
The result was fantastic: instead of pitting the two girls against each other, Tumblr made them kiss. “Normal-chan” and “Other girls-sama” became a new couple, nicknamed “Creamsicle,” because one is orange and one is white.
Tumblr certainly remembers this, and the community hasn’t missed the parallels between Creamsicle and “Virgin x Chad.” One of the most popular posts about the Chad meme is this piece of fan art posted over the weekend by Tumblr artist Jieb. It has more than 10,000 Tumblr notes:
The difference, although it’s a subtle one, is that the Chad/Virgin pairing is a joke, mocking the characters themselves as paper-thin stereotypes. Creamsicle wasn’t making fun of the two female characters, it was sending the feminist message that women shouldn’t buy into misogynistic stereotypes about anyone “skinny,” “trashy,” or “fake.” Instead, both “Normal-chan” and “Other Girls” are worthy of love. In both cases, the message was that archetypes don’t have to define people, and we’re only hurting ourselves when we can’t look past them.
Time is indeed a flat circle, and every meme concept recurs eternally, fated only to be adapted to the prevailing events and principles of the day before it disappears back into obscurity.
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.