How did we get here? And by “here,” I don’t mean “Barb from Stranger Things nominated for an Emmy” or “another bad haircut for me,” because I know the answers to the questions in both of those cases. I mean to the point where the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme has maintained an inexplicable popularity for so long as to achieve the rare double-meta (memes are already meta) status, a height from which it is capable of breaking my brain.
This meme, taken from a 30 Rock scene in which Steve Buscemi wears a T-shirt reading “Music Band” and a backwards baseball cap, imagining that he is passing as a teenager, is most often used by people trying to make the self-deprecating joke that they are old and do not understand something current or hip. (Or to accuse someone else of the same.) The meme, however, and the poster’s knowledge of it, is supposed to subtly remind the viewer “But actually, I am hip enough to at least know of a meme to use in this situation.” You don’t really need me to explain it, as you’ve seen it likely every day of the last five years, but just in case this ends up in a time capsule or something.
They have used it so many times — and I am sorry to say that this “they” includes basically all of my co-workers at The Verge — that its use has actually evolved to have the same effect as wearing a hoodie and carrying a skateboard into a high school. “How do you do, fellow kids?” this meme asks literally, and then asks again. It is about being uncool, and also using it is uncool.
Once this rather banal thought occurred to me (about three months ago), people only started using the meme more. Freud did not believe that women could experience paranoia, as they do not feel the same unceasing fear that men do of having their sexual organs cut off. And so, I know that I am not imagining this.
Oddly the GIF has had many peaks, according to Google Trends, including October 2012, the summer of 2013, the summer of 2015, December 2015, July 2016, December 2016, April 2017, and June 2017. Know Your Meme explains the GIF’s initial popularity as the by-product of online articles rounding up the best episodes and jokes of 30 Rock before it went off the air, and they are likely correct. The final season of the show premiered in October 2012. Sure, makes sense to me. But what about all those other peaks? They all happened long after the show stopped airing, and given the almost senseless flexibility of this image, it’s very hard to imagine specific events that would prompt any individual spike. I can only guess at explanations for a few of these.
My best guess here is the publication of TIME magazine’s notorious cover story “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation.” The article starts out with an eager self-defense: “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics!” This is a bad example of confident journalism, but a good example of the unconvincing “I’m self-aware” message conveyed by posting one specific short moving image of Steve Buscemi.
This is the birthdate of the subreddit r/fellowkids, which is a forum for mocking media and brands. Here are the rules for submissions: “Ads / media where ‘the man’ tries to appeal to young people using their vernacular in a lame, pandering way. The community has decided that self-aware ads / media are also welcome, but the non-aware kind is preferred.” It appears this group has moved on from referencing their namesake — the GIF does not appear anywhere on the first several pages of results — which is nice and everyone else should do it, too.
Please note that the moderators specifically called out “self-aware” submissions as acceptable, presumably because true self-awareness is admirable no matter where it’s found. Even in brands. Try it today!
In the final months of the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton was regularly mocked for attempting to understand memes and pandering to younger voters. Hmm, not sure that was worth it.
Each year, the month of December is capitalized by the media as an opportunity to recap the 11 months preceding it, and I suppose 2016 was a big year for people trying and failing to understand memes and youth culture in general. Memes hit the mainstream more powerfully than ever. Ordinary people with healthy, fulfilling lives were suddenly expected to understand 4chan, and the way misinformation moves through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. A reality TV personality became president of the United States and the whole world became what felt like a particularly heinous reality TV program.
People were looking around a lot and saying “What is going on?” and having a hard time coming up with answers. So maybe it was just easier to go into the meme bank and pull out the simplest, most familiar icon of cluelessness and smash that “post” button than it was to process even more information. This is my best and most sympathetic guess as to the enduring popularity of “How do you do, fellow kids?” — a popularity sustained for many, many years after it stopped being a funny or original joke.
how do you do fellow kids is such a good meme i think it’s in my top 5
— Eilish Gilligan (@eilishgilligan) June 18, 2017
As I noted above, this is still happening. This is the reason for the post, and for my plea of “please stop.” I don’t want to be reminded of a joke that has its context five years ago in a TV show firmly grounded in Obama-era assumptions about what was funny and “happening” in the United States.
To further complicate my experience of the world, Know Your Meme’s entry for “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?” lists the wrong episode of 30 Rock and the wrong story context for the meme. It comes from a February 2012 episode of the show in which Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) hopes to send private investigator Lenny Wozniak (Buscemi) undercover to find a man who mugged him. The error in the timeline published by what is inarguably the Paper of Record for memes might work as an overly complicated meta Easter egg — this meme about being out of touch is so powerful that it actually scrambles the brains of the most in-touch people on the face of the Earth. Wow!
And for good measure: Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon spends most of this episode in a purposefully gross approximation of Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup. The episode, called “The Tuxedo Begins,” is a Dark Knight parody dreamed up nearly four years after that film’s release. How? And why? I suppose, and assume, to give even more weight to this moment in which I feel confused and tired.
According to my life experience, and to Google’s data, “How do you do, fellow kids?” is more popular now than it was when the show it referenced was still a Thursday night staple for a national television audience that had so far seen only two Netflix original series and had never heard the phrase “peak TV.” It is out of touch, out of date, and totally out of place in its current context. A meme of a meme, a monster that will kill me.
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