I’m Not Sure That Meme’s What You Think It Memes

My friend Polly sent me this meme, with the comment, “Huh. Lol,” a few weeks back.

Polly, who’s appeared in the Handbasket before, is in a polyamorous relationship and, between that and knowing she rarely watches movies, I was fairly confident that it had caught her attention because of its implicit criticism of anything outside of traditional monogamy.

So I asked if she knew the movie reference. She didn’t, so I gave her a quick rundown. A very quick one, as I’ve never seen the film the image is from, either. But I knew enough to say it’s a still from the slasher/horror movie Hallowe’en, in which Michael Myers, (aka the guy with the mask), relentlessly chases Jamie Lee Curtis’s character. And that’s about it. Still, it was enough to change Polly’s interpretation from “Lol” to “Oh, I see. ‘Dedicated’ means stalking, terrorizing … Greeeeat.”

Within a matter of minutes, she went from one firm interpretation of the meme, to two quite different possibilities. I added a third to the mix when I popped online to do some research into the Michael Myers character. I was pretty sure I’d heard that he didn’t have an ‘origin story,’ as most slasher villains do. I was right. There’s no external trauma or supernatural event, or some combination of the two, that drives Michael Myers. He just is. His creators call him ‘pure evil.’ As soon as I read that, the idea that the meme is saying real men=pure evil came to mind.

And so we had interpretation #3.

Really curious now as to how far this could go, I posted the meme on my Facebook page and asked friends for their interpretations. And they did not disappoint. Responses (copy/pasted here) included:

  • What’s a “real man?”
  • Romanticizing murderous intention. How lovely (/sarcasm). I can appreciate dark humour at times … but not when it comes to violence. I don’t find it funny because, scarily, a lot of people in the real world already confuse obsession with love. Any bit of encouragement in thinking that way is not a good thing.
  • I see it as sarcasm, playing on the fact that society seems to think that most men aren’t loyal to their female partners. Also I personally find it hilarious but outdated.
  • I find it problematic and taking a piss about systemic violence impacting so many women. I LOVE this movie, the horror genre in general, and have a dark sense of humour, but feel this attempt to be funny not funny at all.
  • I find it problematic and stalker creepy. Also notice how it’s a man versus a girl. It definitely shows power imbalance and hinges on patriarchal thinking. And while it is a horror movie – the 90s and early 2000s are over. Rant done.
  • It seems to be saying that it’s better, stronger, more “manly” to have a lifelong attachment to one woman and that anything else reflects weakness. Given that serial monogamy is the norm and that polyamory is at least not unknown, doesn’t this frame most people as suboptimal in their relationships?
  • … could be seen as saying that obsessive stalking is an extreme example of understandable, commonly experienced feelings of love and attachment, “dedication” rather than as a manifestation of patriarchal control. The use of “girl” vs “woman” is always a tip that what we’re looking at might not be about challenging patriarchy.

The conversation only got more interesting when Polly researched the phrase at the meme’s heart, discovered, “It’s a thing,” and sent me a screenshot of her search results.

I added this to the Facebook conversation, only to find people who had commented before chiming in with new takes.

  • That potentially changes the whole interpretation, doesn’t it? I mean, the meme could be mocking the basic idea of those other memes. In a “taking it to an extreme” kind of way.
  • well that’s a tight little box to put everyone in. I think as long as everyone is happy and not hurting anyone and everyone understands the boundaries they should explore the way they want.
  • I wonder what happens when the girl grows up, becomes a woman, and wants other things?

This exercise was intended to be a silly little thing among friends, but it ended up highlighting issues with the dubious way in which our modern society gets much of its information. So much is communicated via memes and sound bites, with no substance or context, it only enables the human tendency towards confirmation bias. We fill in the blanks with what we already believe and continue blithely on our way, without even considering that there could be another perspective, let alone what that perspective might be.

And that, in my opinion, is scarier than any horror film could ever be.

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