Even more than most other years, 2020 was a time when we experienced events through meme culture. Having spent most of the year either indoors or worrying about whether we should be indoors, the glut of despairing jokes, coronavirus memes and Dominic Cummings tweetstorms have been incredibly comforting, even when they've been pressing on some miserable and infuriating moments.
The strange warping and flexing flow of time since about mid-March generally gets put down to lockdown, the stress of living through a pandemic and the overriding sense that we've been monkey-barring our way from one day to the next.
A lot of us lived more intensely online, and while the volume of online stuff that happened has probably been only a bit higher than normal, the offline stuff that counteracts it and helps you actually parcel out the chunks of your life in a meaningful way hasn't been there as balance. The memes have been the real staging posts of the last six months.
So look at this as a time capsule. When archaeologists of the future look back at this plague ravaged time, they'll get a much fuller picture of what the hell it was like to live through
The 5 Best Memes of 2020
'My Plans / 2020'
The definitive meme of this harrowing new decade. Gather up all your hopes, your dreams and your wishes and dump them into the biggest bin you can find. It's 2020, baby!
Dominic Cummings's Eye Test Grand Prix
Boris Johnson's talismanic advisor decided that the best way to deal with both himself and his wife developing coronavirus symptoms was to ignore the direction to isolate for two weeks and drive 260 miles north to Durham. Cummings's line that he only drove to the nearby town of Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was one for the ages. The Cummings memes made the whole sordid business even funnier.
Good news, everyone! The pubs are staying open! Until 10pm! Despite the bleak point we find ourselves at as autumn turns, there is at least the prospect that socially distanced outdoor afters can now get cracking a couple of hours earlier.
The logic of pub and restaurant curfews is relatively sensible, really, but after the last six months of illogic and increasingly Byzantine advice, laws, recommendations, discouragements, encouragements, initiatives and directives, everyone's pretty sick of it. So, obviously, the memes tend toward a sarky appraisal of how bringing last orders forward an hour is going to magically keep a pandemic at bay.
For weeks before Boris Johnson's recent announcement, the UK had been a hotchpotch of local lockdowns and areas where it was basically New Years Eve all the time, baby. Now, though, everyone in England is on the same timetable, so we may at least have some decent memes to show for this new phase. At the very least, it's an excellent excuse to wheel out some of the greatest formats of all time. For instance:
There will come a day when the old anti-piracy meme won't be funny, but we'll all be in the cold, cold ground before it comes.
The Ongoing Wembley Lasagne Saga
When we look back on 2020, this WhatsApp voice note will be one of the keystones to understanding the mental space we found ourselves in at the start of April. In short: to deal with food shortages, the FA had offered the home of English football up to the service of the nation, and would close up its retractable roof, turn on the under-soil heating, and make the biggest lasagne north London has ever seen.
The man behind the WhatsApp voice note that went mad is 29-year-old Londoner Billy McLean, who works in software sales. He chucked it into a group of 30 of his mates from football, and it went off its head.
"It was just a one take. I sent it to the football group, my mum and the girl that I’m trying to date," he told the Guardian. "It went around the football group. Then I got people that I know forwarding it to me, not knowing it was me, or forwarding it to me asking if I’d heard it. Ex-girlfriends were coming out of the woodwork asking was it me."
That ruddy election
Remember all those hours spent staring at CNN, willing Nevada to pull its collective finger out of its collective arse? Remember letting sentences trail off halfway through when you started thinking about what might happen with the blizzard of lawsuits being fired out by Republican lawyers? Now everything seems to be running toward normality again. What a weird couple of weeks.
If you're in the mood for a nostalgic hit of memes from when it briefly looked like everything might be terrible, and then gradually got funnier and funnier and funnier, all of the best memes from the American election are right here. And! If you want some specifically about Trump's flailing in the face of cold, hard ballots, they're all here.
And the best of the rest
The Coronavirus Briefings
That goddamn 'rony at least necessitated the creation of the daily briefings, which proved fertile memeing grounds as we all gathered around the fireside to find out exactly how banjaxed everything was. Regular targets included the vague graphs, the revolving cast of unknown junior ministers stepping in when things get too hot, and the rapidly escalating sense that nobody knows what's going on.
Attack of the 50-Foot Rita Ora
Until very recently, the only morally unconscionable thing Rita Ora had done was allow herself to be rendered as a monster capable of destroying London's financial centre with a few swipes via motion capture. An EE advert rendered the 'How to be Lonely' hitmaker as a particularly emotion-free Sim getting ready to go toe to toe with Mothra.
And naturally there were quite a few ways to read that slightly cross-eyed stare coming from the mega-Rita.
Marcus Rashford, the people's prince
It's slightly mad to think that we have FC Midtjylland of Jutland, Denmark and Anthony Martial's dodgy hamstring to thank for the ongoing political maelstrom around whether or not it's completely fine that thousands of children will be hungry over Christmas. Marcus, politely but firmly putting the case that no, actually, that would be bad, has become a beacon of common sense and has spread hope that maybe there is actually a limit to how evil and sour the government can be in public.
Imagine being Boris Johnson, and not only getting rinsed by one of the country's most intensely likeable young men but also getting bodied by such cuddly conglomerates as McDonald's, who've stepped in to help fill the gap. Everyone – everyone – thinks that you're being awful, apart from a few MPs who stand up in Parliament to dribble something about "nationalising children" in your defence. That's in Hansard now. "Nationalising children." Yowza.
Andy Burnham: King in the North
Burnham's hardball face-off with Westminster over the amount of cash Greater Manchester could have to help make it more likely any businesses will survive its new tier three status has lent itself to loads of obvious Game of Thrones gifs and slightly sketchy Photoshops. It's also, more enjoyably, invited a lot of reworkings of yer classic sitcom image macros. Boris Johnson should maybe have sent in his cousin to soften Burnham up before he got involved.
Rather than sending in the Bluth family matriarch to make the case.
And there was a welcome return for the Sue Sylvester format, which you suspect will bubble under for as long as people create toxic environments.
Fatima, the former ballet dancer
You'll have seen Fatima, tying up her shoes on a government poster from last year promoting retraining. She's been all over Twitter for the last week.
The poster hits rather different than it did when it was first made. Rather than sounding an optimistic note, the suggestion that she take up a new career in internet security sounded less like a helpful pointer and more like a simpering directive to bin her dreams and get a proper job. Naturally, some have been reworking it for their own amusement and fury.
Others wonder exactly what this fascinating new world of cyber actually entails. Cybersecurity? Presumably. Cyber crime? Potentially. The kind of 'cybering' which was very quickly glossed over in PSE lessons between 2001 and 2008? Hopefully not what we're going to rebuild the country's economy on after all this rottenness has subsided, but if we've got to pitch in, we've got to pitch in.
Whatever it is, this new world of cyber might not be exactly the area Fatima wants to be donating her brain to.
Then again, maybe it'd be quite nice. Being entirely human has proved to have its limitations over the last seven months or so. The ability to just power down for a bit could have its uses.
How it started, how it's going
Extremely popular with athletes, this one. The idea is you post a picture of yourself doing something when you were a kid, or at least right back when you were a newbie to a particular field or activity, then next to it you have a pic of yourself as the learned, buff, relentlessly successful article you've become. Yes, it can be a little bit insufferable. But thanks to that, it's been ripe for a memeing.
Or for a general remix.
Gunnersaurus gets his P45
So that's it, the old team on the scrapheap. Arsenal admitted – on transfer deadline day, when they'd just signed Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid for £45 million – that they'd be letting their much loved mascot Gunnersaurus go to save some cash.
Despite a last-minute offer from Mesut Özil to pay his salary, Jerry Quy, the man in the gigantic reptile suit, will hang up his elongated neck after 27 years. The club has since promised that Quy will return as Gunnersaurus "when fans return". But that is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Gunnersaurus must be reinstated as soon as possible.
The government's careers test
Archaeologist! Horse groomer! Cake decorator! Canal lock keeper! All of these careers and more can be yours if that the pandemic has rendered your industry redundant or chronically underfunded, thanks to the government's careers advice quiz.
All you do is go to the National Careers Service website, answer a few questions (do you like helping people? Can you make decisions quickly? How much do you like touching horses' legs?) and bish bash bosh, you've retrained as an arc welder.
It is obviously an inexact science.
Just this tweet
It's......... so good.
Dettol's Trainspotting-channelling advert
Trying to get everyone to head back to the office just as the spectre of a second wave is starting to darken the country's doorway was always going to be a tricky sell, but thankfully Dettol's matey, with-it, zeitgeist-frotting Tube advert settled the debate once and for all. We're all commuting straight to B&M bargains, buying a bottle of Dettol, and emptying it straight into our eyes.
We've got some more memes here, if you're into it.
The Reese Witherspoon challenge
The 'challenge' aspect of this challenge is negligible, really, but in the same way as Dolly Parton invited us to put together Instagram collages of our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tinder pics, Reese Witherspoon's account gave us a new template for visualising what the hell this year has been. The general trajectory: hopeful, joyous, concerned, terrified, sort of holding it together, exhausted.
Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV
Turning Donald Trump's mouldering speeches and brain dumps into memeable moments feels like a very 2017 thing to do – the kind of luxury we could afford when there were only three or four global crises for us to worry about – but his explanation of why his brain is fantastic came pre-prepared with a little puck of herbed butter on top ready to pop straight into the oven.
Trump seemed to be suggesting that his performance in this particular test is definitive and undeniable proof that he's some kind of very stable genius, but others have pointed out that the test he's talking about, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, is only really for showing if you have signs of dementia, Alzheimer's or other degenerative illnesses.
That bit isn't the bit that got memed. (It's not much of a laugh, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and the attendant degenerative illnesses it diagnoses.) It's the bit where he went "person, woman, man, camera, TV," again and again. Obviously it's an American thing, but it's beached itself on these shores too.
And electro producer Louis Le Roche gave it the full Daft Punk rework.
Fatboy Slim dropped that during a DJ set with Idris Elba the other day you know. Banger. There's something oddly meditative about the cadence of those five words. Person, woman, man, camera, TV. It's like a really shit haiku. Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.
Dear Sexy Fish London
Jess Glynne's had a hell of a 12 months. This time last year she'd just been banned for life from the Isle of Wight Festival for cancelling last minute, and then at the start of July she was refused service at Mayfair seafood hangout Sexy Fish.
"Dear @sexyfishlondon I turned up to your restaurant looking like this and you looked me and my friend up and down and said no you can’t come in and your restaurant was EMPTY."
The 'So Real (Warriors)' tunesmith went on: "@sexyfishlondon please check yourself if this is how you treat people cause it’s rude, off putting, embarrassing and most definitely not inviting. We were made to wait and 2 members of staff came to look at us and make a decision based on our appearance. I think the attitude of your staff needs to change as that was just simply RUDE."
We can but hope that one day, perhaps society will stop treating pop stars as second class citizens. Until that day, we'll turn them into memes.
That's from a deeply unlikely campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of overfishing, which took a leaf out of Peta's playbook and slapped dead fish all over nude celebs including Biggins, Gillian Anderson and Miriam Margolyes. Anyway. Here's cat Judi Dench wearing another cat's pelt as a trophy.
This is a solid, all-purpose meme with a very low barrier to entry. Anyone can do it. Copy and paste the diatribe, pick a picture of someone looking daft and away you go.
Sue Sylvester's toxic environment
No, we didn't have Glee's return to cultural prominence down in the great 2020 sweepstakes either, but here we are, crudely editing the words of an intensely awful PE teacher for a laugh.
The first wave was a tidy little recontextualising gag, but the second and third pushed it into a more agreeably DIY, MS Paint vibe with more remixing potential. Things have since got a bit out of hand.
Remixing the BBC News theme
Given how much of this year's been spent in a paralysing state of oh-Christ-what-is-it-now-ness, it feels a little bit improper to pick up the news purely through push notifications. There's been quite a few moments where you wanted to be watching the actual news on the actual TV, just so it feels a bit more real. One of the pleasant side-effects is a renewed appreciation for the BBC News theme, which is an absolute banger. The biggest hit was this mash-up of the theme and Dua Lipa's 'Hallucinate' from her new album.
Other reinterpretations included BBC weatherman Owain Wyn Evans drumming along, and many, many TikTok remixes.
The Marriage Story fight
A close cousin of the American Chopper fight meme from back in the misty days of 2018, the one where Paul Teutul Jr and Paul Teutul Sr gradually build up their bickering until they're launching tables and chairs at each other, the Marriage Story fight is subtly different. For one thing, it's a lot shorter. For another, It pivots on Adam Driver absolutely flipping his shit. It's petulance incarnate.
Nature is healing
First, the fish came back to Venice. Then some goats started rampaging through Llandudno. Then Twitter started spotting even more natural phenomena which the lockdown – and the subsequent almost complete lack of humanity outside which accompanied it – had allowed to return to their natural rhythms.
We never did hear anything else about the plague of goats which descended on Llandudno, come to think of it. Presumably at this point they've set up a breakaway senedd and are conducting preliminary diplomatic discussions with the human Welsh parliament.
Bob Mortimer's been doing pencil case imagineer and business guru Train Guy in various guises for a while on the Athletico Mince podcast, but its only this year that he's really gone overground. (Not that Train Guy would travel on the Overground; he's a first class lounge regular on Virgin West Coast.) Don't know Train Guy? You'll have sat next to him at some point. We've got some more Train Guy thoughts here too, as it happens. Have a campachoochoo on us. There's also a soundboard now.
Just as lockdown started to bite, a bid for freedom by an African grey parrot called Chanel who lived in Liverpool obsessed Twitter. (Chanel's full name, we found out later, was Chanel Chanelington.) The bird's distraught ma, Sandra, did the only thing most of us would think to do in that situation: she went outside and shouted her bird's name repeatedly.
Why had Chanel just flown away out of the garden? What was it about life in suburban Merseyside that had apparently led her to snap? Would she ever return? All we knew was that she'd headed off towards the canal. Obviously this was absolute dynamite material.
Chanel the parrot did turn up in the end and Sandra got to go on This Morning, so all's well that ends well.
TikTok Versus Politics
Miming along with political speeches and interviews has become a boom industry in the last couple of months. The UK's undoubted queen is Meggie Foster.
And over in America, it's Sarah Cooper.
The 'Wash Your Lyrics' Meme
The overture before the full symphonic beauty of the memes of lockdown, this was the first big hit of the coronavirus period. We were told to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice while scrubbing our mitts to make sure we did them properly. The internet had some other suggestions: Rage Against the Machine, the Sex Pistols, and Neil Kinnock at the 1985 Labour Party Conference.
The 'LinkedIn / Facebook / Instagram / Tinder' Meme
This one probably didn't start with Dolly Parton herself, but by God, she gave it an almighty shot in the arm. The different hats we wear on the social media platforms that our parents' generation have heard of are pretty daft, aren't they.
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