The Last of a Dying Breed
November 2016. We all either remember it in vivid detail or have tried our best to forget it. It was at once a time of great hope and great despair. The great political upheaval that awaited us was at the forefront of everyone’s mind but in the backdrop, there was the Mannequin challenge. Videos of people being as still as possible while the camera man walked around. They were impressive and seemed like anyone could do them. All you needed to execute it properly was people. That and to set it to the song Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd, a song that played in every uber I ever took until January 2017.
I remember this meme mostly as a Thanksgiving meme. People tried to get their families to participate to varying degrees of success. We were either really impressed by their parents’ and young cousins' ability to stay still or laughing at how bad it was, with most posters being in on the joke. It had the perfect ingredients for a Thanksgiving meme. It had been percolating in the public consciousness for so long that even our parents had heard it about. It required no special equipment, or learning anything, or editing. Tell grandma to stay still and record her. The whole family can enjoy it and it's more fun than trying to do a family photo.
It was fun while it lasted and before it reached a critical mass of it being bad, or just oversaturated. It seems like everyone participated in some way. Looking back it even seems fun. It's not necessarily too corny or cringe to watch in 2021, for at least most of them. Like all memes, these videos are a snapshot of how we felt about everything at the time. In reading articles, we can see what celebrities we still liked or tolerated. What is so different and shocking to me, is that it was popular at the beginning of November and stayed popular throughout November. Despite the election happening right in the middle.
Being on the internet in November 2016 was awful. Everyone was posting crying selfies and posturing about how bad the future was going to be. Lines were being drawn and people were doing their best to prepare for the worst. Most importantly no one was allowed to joke. No one wanted to, but even if they did, they weren’t allowed to. This moment of silence was almost universal, except for the mannequin challenge. Everyone was still allowed to post the mannequin challenge. It was a reminder that life goes on. We should enjoy the last days of the Obama administration while we still could.
I can’t remember the last time we were so gripped by a trend. No one has the effort anymore. No one enjoys the internet and there’s far too many pipelines to fall into. Our shared language has become so insider that explaining our world to outsiders is almost impossible. Our worlds are becoming more polarized and the more time we spend on the internet, we get farther and farther away from normal.
This meme is the last of Obama era optimism. Before the internet became a useless tool for politics, where we did more useless policing of each other than actually helping people. Innocuous fights took on a political undercurrent and now we live in a world where not watching Ted Lasso means you don’t support the sexual satisfaction of women. The mannequin challenge was us saying goodbye to the old internet. There would be no more fun, no more united internet where we all played in the sandbox together. The world took on a darker turn and the people who had been in charge of placating us with light fun could no longer turn a blind eye. I think we knew that we could not replicate the mannequin challenge in the coming years. These would be the lean times. We could not pretend we did not know about the horrors of the world anymore. Look where that got us. We held on tightly and did not let go until it was clear we had to. We can only return to a well so many times before we must admit that the waters run dry.