"What if phones, but too much?" With one 2015 tweet, writer Daniel Mallory Ortberg skewered postmodern dis/un-ease series Black Mirror – but in an adroit demonstration of what the show's all about, Black Mirror promptly turned around and released the episode "Playtest," in which a phone call kills a hapless young backpacker – and series creator Charlie Brooker acknowledged that Ortberg's fake pitch inspired the real thing.
Although that Twitter incident is now ancient history as measured in internet years, it's exactly the kind of cultural ourobouros that's arisen from our habit of keeping our noses buried in our electronic horror bricks morning, noon and night. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snap (for those still there) ... it's a frantic stew of political shoutiness, cancel culture, performative wokeness, and good ol' avoidant behavior in the form of ever-less-explicable jokes, memes, short-lived obsessions, Netflix tropes and "iconic moments." Oh, and hate. Lots and lots of hate.
To those living healthy outdoorsy lives of, I don't know, chopping wood and eating Grape-Nuts, the following will be a meaningless blur (Westworld: "That doesn't look like anything to me"). This list is for the rest of us, the Extremely Online who are all too aware that cats can have little a salami. Here, then, were the best posts of 2019. YMMV!
The Instagram Egg
We embraced the death of meaning early this year by pushing a simple stock photo of a brown egg to the No. 1 most-liked social media post of all time for no particular reason. The Instagram account @world_record_egg was created on Jan. 4 with a single picture of an egg and a call to push it past the then-current world record holder, a picture of Kylie Jenner's daughter, Stormi, that had 18 million likes. In less than two weeks, the Instagram Egg had more than doubled that record, with 45 million likes, making it the most liked online post in an admittedly brief history.
"Does this spark joy?"
Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of the bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, hit it big this year with her Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. The show brings the Japanese organizing consultant to American homes, where she teaches families how to let go of the possessions they rarely or never use. The filtering process is mediated by asking the question, "Does this spark joy?" Needless to say, the phrase had a big moment over the ensuing year. It's even inspired our attitude toward the New Year. 2019 didn't spark joy; it's time to thank it (for nothing!) and say goodbye.
"Storm Area 51"
We've all been invited to the occasional joke Facebook event – looking at you, "Fred Durst LIVE at Rose's Department Store" – but an invite to "Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us" captured the attention of the nation this summer. Created as a joke by Matty Roberts, who was inspired by an episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast, the event immediately went viral as the internet conspired to figure out just how the best way to storm the famously secretive Nevada military base would be, what they might find there, and how many people were going to actually show up. The military was forced to look up terms like "Naruto run" and "clap alien cheeks" to figure out just what the hell the internet was talking about, which might be the single biggest success of the meme. On Sept. 20, about 150 people showed up to the gates of Area 51 for a mostly benign gathering, brandishing joke signs and taking selfies with guards. No aliens were harmed.
Game of Thrones screws the pooch
The final season of the massively popular HBO series Game of Thrones hit the airwaves in spring, bringing only six episodes to try to wrap up the epic tale of dragons, white walkers, usurpers and incest. Reactions to the season were mixed, to put it politely. For a month, April 14-May 19, attacking or defending the show took over as the topic of conversation for millions of frustrated viewers, with many claiming that the series felt rushed and that certain characters' actions didn't fit their characterization in previous seasons. George R.R. Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire books the show was based on, has been cagey about revealing whether or not the show's ending lines up with his planned final two novels in the series, neither of which has a release date yet. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who many blamed for the poor quality of the final seasons of the show, currently have a $200 million contract to produce content for Netflix. The words of their house? "Fail up."
"Old Town Road"
Georgia rapper Lil Nas X had the biggest hit of the year – and one of the biggest hits in history – with "Old Town Road," a song that blended hip-hop and country with the help of Billy Ray Cyrus. (The Cyrus version was a remix of the original, which was recorded in one day and posted on YouTube as a video constructed of clips from Red Dead Redemption, then made popular by hundreds of TikTok teens participating in the "Yeehaw Challenge." If you have to ask ....) It ended up on the Billboard Hot Country and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts simultaneously in March, but controversy was stirred up when Billboard quietly removed the song from the Hot Country chart for not being "country" enough – despite letting R&B-heavy songs from white artists stay on the Country chart. This, of course, fueled hundreds of discussions about racism in the entertainment industry and what the defining characteristics of genres are. Meanwhile, "Old Town Road" broke a record by staying at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 consecutive weeks.
In yet another example of old people believing anything they read on the internet, the "Momo Challenge" caught the attention of the media early in the year. The modern urban legend about a freakish bird-like woman sending messages to kids and inspiring suicides sparked a moral panic after Northern Irish police posted a public warning about the dangers of Momo. Kim Kardashian took the bait, publicly asking YouTube to remove alleged Momo videos. The panic spread around the world as parents and authorities leapt at the chance to tie youth suicides to an internet fad, and not to the crushing depression that's a direct result of modern existence.
It may not have had the reach of Cats or Star Wars, but Ari Aster's "folk horror" film Midsommar had the tongues of horror and film fans wagging over the summer. The film follows a group of American friends who travel to Sweden for an anthropological look at a pagan festival and end up horrified by what they find. Oh, and they're all tripping balls for half the movie. Like Aster's 2018 debut, Hereditary, debate was spirited and passionate about the film, with some proclaiming it one of the best films of the year, and others finding it too boring to really be considered a horror movie. One of those perspectives is correct.
Popeyes chicken sandwich
In August, fast-food chain Popeyes began selling a fried chicken sandwich similar to those sold by Chick-Fil-A. A public tired of having to make a choice between their principles and their hunger when it comes to Chick-Fil-A's financial support of anti-LGBTQ organizations rejoiced. Lines for the Popeyes sandwich stretched around blocks. A guy in Maryland was stabbed and murdered for allegedly cutting in line for the sandwich. The entire supply of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich – a supply originally meant to last two months – was devoured by the nation in less than two weeks. Thankfully, the sandwich is now easily attainable, opening up an entire market of hate-free chicken. Now wait'll y'all discover the Popeyes biscuit.
30-50 feral hogs
Why do Americans need guns? It's a question that's divided the nation for decades, spiking in recent years due to the prevalence of mass shooting incidents at schools, nightclubs, movie theaters and other venues where we used to feel safe. On Aug. 4, musician Jason Isbell sent out a tweet criticizing gun defenders for their disingenuous focus on the definition of an "assault weapon," and received a response from one William McNabb, who asked, "Legit question for rural Americans – How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?" The response inspired the creation of plenty of parodies and memes. While feral hogs can be an issue in southern Arkansas, where McNabb lives, many on the internet questioned why he had never considered the benefits of good fencing. For about a week, everyone tried to cram 30-50 feral hogs wherever they would fit, not just into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play.
Untitled Goose Game
Though there were plenty of good video games hitting the market in 2019, none captured the zeitgeist like Untitled Goose Game from independent Australian publisher House House. The simplicity of the game's premise – you are a goose bent on terrorizing an English village by stealing everyone's stuff, honking loudly and just generally being an asshole – spoke to us on a spiritual level, celebrating the pettiness that we all wish we could indulge in. Here's hoping some enterprising Orlandoan makes a Lake Eola Swan mod for the game soon.
"... and it shows"
What would we do without new meme formats filling the hours of consciousness with soft chuckles throughout the day? "And it shows" memes kicked off the year with a flood of oddly specific observations about shared experiences that made us laugh, especially when it applied to us. For instance, "Some of y'all have never had to look through an alt-weekly's DM inbox, and it shows."
Did anyone have a better year than Lizzo? Two years after her banger single "Truth Hurts" was released, mainstream America finally found out about it thanks in part to, again, a TikTok trend. The song's belated success drove Lizzo's latest album, Cuz I Love You, to a new level of success, and made the self-love espousing rapper everyone's feel-good go-to. And she showed an aptitude for navigating Twitter's complex cancel culture when it turned out that its irresistible lyric, "I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch" (which launched a massive meme wave of its own), was taken from a 2017 tweet by British singer Mina Lioness. Lizzo absorbed the backlash, investigated how it came to be in her song (it was brought into the studio by one of her co-writers), and took to Twitter to apologize and share credit with Lioness. Lioness then brought the saga to an upbeat and appropriately online end by tweeting, "I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm a credited writer for the number one song on Billboard."
The hotly anticipated launch of Disney's streaming service, Disney+, brought with it the first live-action show set in the Star Wars universe. And while the exploits of the unnamed bounty hunter in The Mandalorian had been the topic of plenty of speculation beforehand, no one was prepared for the 100 percent weapons-grade cuteness of the scene-stealing "Baby Yoda." Officially called "The Child" in the credits of the show, the public gave him the moniker because – well, because he looks like a baby version of Yoda. The success of the character seems to have caught Disney by surprise, but a small stream of Baby Yoda merchandise managed to hit the shelves just before the holidays.
She's only 18, but Billie Eilish wowed everyone with her debut full-length album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? this year. The California native already had plenty of attention before its release thanks to a series of cryptic, nightmarish music videos on YouTube, but no one anticipated the crossover appeal of her often bleak take on dance pop. This year, she became the first artist born this century to put out a No. 1 record, giving us a glimmer of hope for the future.
The mildest of generational insults blew up this year after 25-year-old New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick used the phrase "OK, boomer" to shut down the heckling of a fellow MP – during, of course, a speech about reducing carbon emissions. Boomers, appalled by the thought that people might be sick of their shit, proceeded to call the phrase "hate speech," with the New York Times declaring it the "end of friendly generational relations." As if Millennials and Gen-Z haven't endured literal decades of articles painting them as lazy, entitled and self-absorbed while the "adults" have created unprecedented economic inequality, a crushing cycle of debt and a poisoned planet. OK, boomer. Good luck getting them to stop using the one phrase that seems to get your attention.
Screaming at Cat Lady
Meme Format of the Year goes to this mash-up of two separate memes, used for arguments about everything from how to read signs, how to pronounce words, geographical boundaries and so much more. It's the kind of meme that's easy to understand, easy to adapt to different situations, and easy to mine to create a photo gallery specific to a city that people from that city will click on.
Therapist: And what do we do when we need to fill up an end-of-the-year issue?
Me: Write a really long article about memes