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The most shocking memes of 2020

YYou don’t need us to tell you that 2020 was a roller coaster of intense emotions, from frustration to boredom, from sadness to anger. You also don’t need us to tell you that memes have helped a lot of people get through this long, long year.

Memes were a force in 2020. A force to vent, a force to call for change, a force to find normality, a force to find connection, more than ever, memes became a shared language that bridged divides During lockdown, but it also widened partisan divides. The Cheezburger Cat and Success Kid memes of a younger internet have matured into waves of jokes betraying a more acerbic and cynical online community. The memes of 2020 reflected on the internet that he has become desensitized to the house on fire around him and the phrase “this is fine” is more of a plea than a resignation. Memes, and the internet that generates them, have been sharpened to a fine, sometimes desperate point.

At the same time, memes continue to exist as they always have: inclusive inside jokes and entertaining shorthand for life’s very specific experiences. They still build recognition and even community, whether people connect through The impact of COVID-19 on mental health or about waiting to order coffee.

They also remain gleefully, immeasurably dumb. Look no further than when a photo of a tent covered most of Twitter earlier this month.

Through group chats, social media, overshared co-workers, and many other ways, memes brought many together, drove many apart, and brought levity to one protracted crisis after another. So, as 2020 draws to a close, we rounded up some of the memes that captured the true essence of this unprecedented year and left an indelible impression on the internet in their wake.

Bernie Sanders asks again

It seems safe to say that no one on the Bernie 2020 campaign team could have predicted that a videos december 2019 of the then-Democratic presidential candidate candidly asking for donations while strolling down a snowy street would lead to the screenshot that launched a thousand memes. But that’s exactly what happened with a still from a fundraising ad that showed Sanders bundled up against the cold, begging his supporters for financial help.

So many people were left wanting this year. And a comfortable Bernie, cracked from the winter chill, provided the perfect avatar to ask for help.

Completing Sue Sylvester mode

happiness‘s six-season run may have ended in 2015, but you’d never know from online memes. While it seemed like someone was working to sabotage all of our lives behind the scenes, it’s easy to see why Sue Sylvester, the ultimate wrecker of McKinley High and played by the legendary Jane Lynch, enjoyed a resurgence in meme popularity.

The ruthless cheerleading coach who strives to create the most toxic environment possible was an entire 2020 mood in itself, but it wasn’t always an indictment. While many used Sue’s threat as a way to vilify those who seek destruction, the meme was also often used in the first person by those gleefully bringing a little more chaos into the world.

animal crossing to the rescue

Weeks after New York City went into lockdown, Nintendo released the perfect game to play in the middle of a pandemic. Animal Crossing is a game that relies on players having a lot of time to collect, decorate, and customize things only to show them to other people who have collected, decorated, and customized their own lives. The game is a deeply relaxing and pleasurable experience., full of cute characters and charming moments. Millions of people, many of whom claimed not to be regular video gamers, dedicated themselves to creating their island and learned what it feels like to be deeply indebted to a tanuki.

Although there was not a single meme that spread across the internet, Animal Crossing inspired multiple riffs, one-offs, sub-genres, and fandoms based on the game. This beautiful game allowed an escape in the game and in the memes it helped create.

Pope Francis gives his blessing

On the Internet, nothing is sacred. So it’s no wonder the concept of Photoshopping the Pope offering a communion wafer in religious reverence took off on Twitter. Even though people have been editing this particular image since it first appeared online in 2013, Twitter users put a new spin on the meme by employing the social networking site’s tiled image format so that It seemed that Pope Francis was holding everything from Simba to the twilight DVDs to a pretzel from Aunt Anne.

how it started vs. how’s it going

No matter what you thought 2020 would bring when the clock struck midnight on January 1, it probably wasn’t a global pandemic that would send the world into lockdown for months. Of course, that’s why a meme format that pokes fun at scenarios where things don’t work out the way you’d expect was universally relatable this year, even if it started out as a cheesy way to brag about your relationship.

Although this meme can be seen as a riff on My plans vs 2020, was not only used to denounce the year. In a refreshingly positive twist, for many this meme became a way to show how far they had come in learning skills, achieving goals, sharing childhood photos, or even proudly displaying their identity.

the car problem

It may be bleak, but 2020 is too. The Trolley Trouble is a famous thought experiment that asks people to weigh the ethical dilemma of whether it is better to let a runaway trolley run its course and kill a group of people, or to divert the trolley and kill a single one to save the day. to others. Finding new ways to frame this issue, to the height of Internet black humor, became a staple of online coronavirus discourse this year.

The meme was often used to highlight binary options that many believed were not binary options at all. Can the richest country in the world afford to help keep the economy afloat, or should businesses stay open even if hundreds of thousands of people die? Does wearing a face mask protect individuals, their loved ones and their community, or is it a complete loss of personal freedom?

The trolley problem memes questioned the very nature of these choices and are meant to highlight the absurdity of limited thinking.

nature is healing

As carbon emissions fell earlier in the year as COVID-19 brought much of the world to a halt, people began posting heartwarming photos and videos of animals supposedly returning to urban areas. Many of those viral posts turned out to be misleading. But on the plus side, they prepared Twitter users for one of the best parody-based meme formats of the year: “nature is healing, we are the virus.”

DW through the fence

Where the summer of 2016 gave us the meme of Arthur clenching his fist, the spring of 2020 gave us a resurgence in popularity of the DW meme looking longingly through a fence.

Scenes from the beloved 90’s PBS children’s show Arthur have long been a source of relatable online jokes, but perhaps never more so than when people started missing out on the daily outings, from getting their nails done to grabbing margs with friends, that make life enjoyable while staying home. in the midst of the coronavirus. The FOMO is so, so real, and in the simplicity of the image, many immediately recognized their own longing.

everything is cake

In July, BuzzFeed’s food website Tasty shared a Video compilation of a chef cutting various hyper-realistic cakes decorated to resemble everyday objects, including an alligator shoe, a roll of toilet paper, and a flower pot. The internet quickly came to the conclusion that, in a year when nothing else made sense, anything could very well turn out to be a cake.

The collective anxiety of “everything is a piece of cake” took over, and nothing has been the same online since. This post is probably cake.

play how you feel

At the end of the summer, Nathan Apodaca reflected our own collective vibe with nothing more than a skateboard, some cranberry juice, and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. A brief TikTok showed him skating down the street, having a shot of juice, and singing along. the words “it’s okay to play how you feel”. It was one of the most beautiful moments of 2020.

On TikTok alone, the video received more than 77 million views. It caught the attention of Fleetwood Mac co-founder Mick Fleetwood. He sent “Dreams” to the top of itunes. Spawn a “Dreams” challenge. And he gave us all a few seconds to relax this year.

Four Season Total Landscaping

One of the strangest stories to unfold on the national stage, telling of something that happened on November 7, the day most major news networks called Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. That morning, Rudy Giuliani held a press conference in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, located in Northeast Philadelphia between a sex shop and a crematorium.

At 9:35 a.m. that day, President Trump tweeted that there would be a meeting at the Four Seasons, which many interpreted as the hotel chain. Ten minutes later, hey tweeted againsaying “Great press conference today in Philly at Four Seasons Total Landscaping,” which, no offense to the company, many in the press had never heard of.

thanks to a cheep of the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, seemed to realize that someone on Trump’s side had confused the family landscaping business with the luxury downtown hotel. While the Trump campaign denied there was a mistake, that stopped few people from assuming the entire press conference, unnervingly held by a busy and noisy highway, was a grand authorship.

Don’t worry about what’s in the vaccine

As misinformation about recently introduced COVID-19 vaccines mounts — a development that has led to increased vaccine hesitancy among Americans — some pro-vaccines have turned to memes to comfort those who fear getting vaccinated.

An increasingly popular bit online asks people to reconsider their thoughts about the vaccine if they’ve ever participated in a number of common experiences that could have more worrisome side effects.


More must-read stories from TIME


write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com and Peter Allen Clark at peter.clark@time.com.


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