Although 2020 is far from over, it’s already in the books as a year that won’t soon be forgotten, in the midst of life-changing events like the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the world and a global uprising of protests against racism and police brutality. Due to social distancing orders, most of us have turned to the Internet for everyday interactions like communicating with co-workers or staying in touch with friends and family.
While spending more time online can be both exhausting and enthralling during this time, there’s no doubt that it’s the main way we’re connecting with each other these days — and as a result, it means that Internet culture is moving faster than ever, producing a wealth of memes, both humorous and pithy, that reflect the moment we’re living in.
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year of many uncertainties and unexpected changes. From the coronavirus pandemic to the cancellation of major events like the Olympics, countless people have had to adjust not only their daily routines but their plans and hopes for the future. Leave it to the Internet to approach the situation with some dark humor with a meme tweet that compares plans for the future with the reality of 2020.
Michael Jordan Looking at iPad
When ESPN released The Last Dance, its 10-part series on Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls this year, Jordan’s hyper-competitive spirit was the clear star of the show. This was never more evident than in an episode when Jordan was shown an iPad with commentary from longtime rival Isiah Thomas. In the clip, Jordan watches the iPad footage with amusement and a pair of raised eyebrows, which became instant meme fodder for the Internet. Yet another clip with Jordan looking at iPad, while laughing uproariously at former opponent Gary Payton confirmed that whenever Michael Jordan was looking at an iPad it was a hit with the Internet. It also nicely provided an obvious successor to his seemingly ubiquitous “Crying Jordan” meme.
Thanks to social distancing orders, working from home became the new normal for many, with Zoom meetings replacing IRL check-ins. Video calls, once a process reserved for check-ins with faraway loved ones, soon became de rigueur for everything from a work status to an after-work happy hour. As might be expected, there were limitations and challenges — but surprisingly, some unanticipated benefits like being able to change the background of a video call or a boss appearing as a potato (thanks to a filter) during the entirety of a meeting or hiding bed head during an early morning chat made using Zoom a new diversion to a time of uncertainty. These factors and more became the inspiration for countless memes about the new form of connecting in 2020.
The term “Karen” has been bandied about for a couple years as the punchline of jokes about the privilege of suburban white women of a certain age, but it’s definitely no laughing matter. It became Internet shorthand this year for the menacing racism and blatant abuse of privilege exhibited by white women. While the meme picked up traction with viral instances of specific white women defying COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the most glaring example of this in 2020 (and a major reason for how Karen went viral this year, bringing a global dialogue about privilege to the forefront) was the case of Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the cops on a Black man who was bird-watching in Central Park. The case incited national outrage, leading to Cooper eventually losing her job (her company issued a statement about the incident, saying that they “do not tolerate racism of any kind”) during the same time that George Floyd’s death spurred a reckoning for racial justice worldwide. It also solidified a “Karen” as synonymous with an entitled woman who stops at nothing, especially racist acts, to get what she wants.
Gossip Girl Title Remixes
One of the stranger yet hilarious memes of the year riffed on buzzy exchanges of ritzy Upper East Siders Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf in the soapy teen hit show Gossip Girl. Using a split screen of the glamorous, but at times ditzy Serena asking Blair, a decisive and scheming queen bee, a common question, the meme’s humor lies within Blair responding with a caption made out of the Gossip Girl title motif. The familiarity of teen drama and the absurdity of the humor and form gave the Internet a chance to flex their anagram skills to really tickle funny bones.
Bernie Sanders Saying “I Am Once Again Asking”
Ahead of 2020, then-Democratic nominee hopeful Bernie Sanders released a video where he asked his followers to donate to his campaign. While a campaign advertisement is nothing out of the ordinary, Sander’s request, “I am once again asking for your financial support,” seemed to strike a chord with the Internet, who not only used a screenshot of Sanders’ ask to express their own need for financial support, but for any other occasion when they might be asking a favor of someone.
During the initial weeks of social distancing orders in the United States, Netflix debuted Tiger King, a docuseries about eccentric and shady exotic animal enthusiasts, starring a big cat owner with an even bigger personality named Joseph “Joe Exotic” Allen Maldonado-Passage. Joe’s flashy fashion sense, outrageous antics, and distinctive mannerisms made him an Internet sensation, while his seeming nemesis, animal sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, became the target of conspiracy theories and villain jokes — especially when viewers discovered that her former husband mysteriously went missing. She repeatedly denied the rumors and spoke out against the portrayal of events. Of course, the series became an instant lightning rod for memes. However, the series took a dark turn when Joe’s bizarre and deep-seated antipathy towards Baskin evolved into something nefarious: he was sentenced to 22 years in prison early this year for his role in a murder-for-hire plot against her. According to federal prison records, he’s currently serving his time at the Fort Worth Federal Medical Center in Texas.
Nancy Pelosi Ripping Trump’s SOTU Speech
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is no stranger to her spirited displays in Congress becoming memes and it appears that 2020 is no exception. At this year’s State of the Union address, Pelosi made headlines when she was spotted ripping up a transcript of Donald Trump’s speech for the occasion. As might be expected, the Internet wasted no time in making it a meme, which was fitting for anytime one might want to show distaste or disapproval for something.
Bong Joon-ho Making His Oscars Kiss
You’d be remiss to find someone more gracious or charming to sweep the Oscars than Bong Joon-ho, who made history as he took home the biggest awards of the night (including best picture, best director, and best original screenplay) for his film Parasite. However, it was the Internet who also gained a win when Joon-ho not only gazed with delight at his Oscar on stage, but then posed for portraits after the ceremony with his Oscar statuettes, mirthfully making them kiss. The sweet, irreverent moment of victory became one of the purest memes of the year and ensured that Joon-ho not only made Oscars history, but viral history.
Billie Eilish’s Oscars Confused Face
Billie Eilish has had some major wins in 2020, namely taking home five Grammys at this year’s ceremony, but one of her most memorable moments yet was her epic reactions at the 2020 Oscars. The camera during the awards show caught her making a confused face during Eminem’s surprise belated (and bizarre) performance of “Lose Yourself” that summed up relatable feelings for many of the attendees and viewers at home. While we’re unable to know whether or not Eilish was reacting to the performance or just the cameras being focused on her, Eilish’s reactions were definitely a highlight of the year’s awards show circuit. It also gave us one of the first — and best — memes of the year.
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston Holding Hands at the SAG Awards
Those looking for a hit of nostalgia at the start of a new decade got it when exes Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were momentarily reunited at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards. In a picture-perfect moment, Pitt grabbed Aniston’s wrist as she walked past him on the red carpet, reigniting a rush of hope for romantics online who noted that the key players in the most notorious celebrity split of the early-aughts were now both single. The image became a viral sensation for anyone who’s ever had a relationship run its course.