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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: The meme is me

Heather Curlee-Novak

We all want to be special and unique.  This is the force behind advertising that promises a better ‘us’ in one product and three clicks.  Our need to be wonderful moves us to post snaps of our dinner, our feet and our dogs for social media.   Carefully curated online lives help us to show only our best self, only in the best light.  We post pictures and witty words to show we are unique like everyone else in our feed.  I used to chortle up my sleeve in high school at the rebellious kids wearing black lipstick and mohawks to be unique…like the rest of their friends.  I didn’t care much about fashion beyond what made me happy in my budget.  I was neither popular nor shunned.  Those days of my youth are long past and today my desires are the same. I don’t make ‘Duck lips’ in photos anymore, but I want to be seen and noticed.  I want to be special.  Today my desire to be special makes me so much like the people around me, I have become a meme and the meme is me.  Ermahgerd!

I am a startlingly clear sample of a middle-aged white lady target customer.  I am typical and predictable even as I strive to be unique. I first realized this on my honeymoon fifteen years ago.  I was on a plane with my tray table down and a Good Housekeeping magazine spread wide open.  As a new bride, I was drawn to the vision of perfect domesticity offered within the pages.  I grinned to see the very jeans I wore there on the page in an advertisement.  There was another article with recipes I would make while on the same honeymoon.   I felt like Good Housekeeping was written just for me.  

Lately I am the Insurance ads about “How Not to Become Your Parents”.  I’d guess they target millennials, because my Gen X self is exactly who they make fun of.  My husband gives me hard side eye when they come on and say, “The waiter doesn’t need to know your name.”  I make one-hour friends with staff everywhere.  I hope it validates their hard work and I feel kinder…but…well.  When I wore my Gap sweatshirt “Live Love Laugh”, I saw myself as the woman in the “How Not to Become Your Parents” ad tossing away a similar wooden sign.  

My social media feeds are crammed with boozy, funny women sharing the same six memes every week.  Memes about being hideously marginal parents, sculpting free time to read behind a locked bathroom door or cussing.  I follow so many people that are so alike and share the same memes that I have begun unfollowing almost everyone to get a break.  Heck yes the one that goes “Parenting is wandering around everyday whispering WTF to yourself(OH wait, we are supposed to whisper that?).” is hilarious. It is 100% relevant to me, but I see it a few times a week because I am a predictable demographic.  I am not unique.

My husband and I laugh together almost daily at some brief joke on the internet that jabs at our lives.

Credit Heather Curlee-Novak

   We love videos like The Holderness Family parody “Me at 20 vs. Me at 40”. The jokes are so spot on they have been viewed more than two hundred million jillion times. Many of us at my stage in life see ourselves reflected in Holderness Family comedy. Like them and their audience, I’ve tried and failed with cauliflower rice.  Like Kim Holderness, I lust after Target and cried against rain covered windows during Covid when I wasn’t making my weekly Target run. I used to joke that between 9am and 11am on any given weekday, you will see every mom with one kid (away in preschool) and a baby in their shopping cart wandering the Target aisles. With a Starbucks Coffee cup.  I watch and laugh and share because in our relatability I can feel seen.  My sameness and predictability makes me feel I am part of a good crowd.  Not the popular crowd, but a majority online, at least. Among my similar demographic, at least.

Memes are funny because they are true about a lot of people.  We see ourselves in them, or we send them to our friends when we recognize them in the witty words or images. While we may not watch the same TV shows every week thanks to streaming and other modern weirdness, the Internet is all the same.  Memes and more reflect us back to ourselves.  In a moment where we may feel divided and distant, we can share laughter at our own expense.  Sharing in the joke helps us feel connected across a very broad world. 

Me: IRL (In Real Life) may not be unique, but I’m pretty awesome. Hang on, I’ll send you the meme to prove it.

Music: "It's Not Rice" by The Holderness Family