Haasch: Internet humor has become means of coping with an overwhelming news cycle

Major news frequently incites a flood of Twitter users who try making the best joke.

Palmer Haasch

Last Friday, now-household American name and special counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report on possible Russian interference during the 2016 election to Attorney General William Barr. The report is the culmination of the two-year long special counsel investigation that attempted to determine possible links between the Russian government and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. While it’s still uncertain whether or not the report will be made fully public, Mueller finishing it represents the culmination of arguably one of the most crucial undertakings during the current administration. It also sparked the culmination of the internet’s hyper-fixation on the report, which took the form of an inescapable slew of Mueller memes.

Twitter — journalism and media Twitter in particular — has a tendency to dog-pile on trending events and news in a cutthroat race to see who can make the best tweet. Over spring break, I detached myself somewhat from breaking news and social media. In turn, I was alerted to Friday’s breaking news by a profusion of witticisms, quips and memes about Mueller once I devoted some time to parsing through my Twitter feed.

The Daily Dot wrote about the resulting memes and compiled some of the more popular iterations. Many of the memes harken back to familiar college nights spent, “sweating in front of [a] laptop” or “gleefully closing all of [your] open tabs” after finishing a project. Other iterations play into adjacent tropes or memes; one plays into J.K. Rowling’s tendency to retcon her work. But my personal favorite was “Mueller: ‘so I wrote a thing,” referencing online content creators’ faux-humble posting of their work. 

The memes — at least this particular burst of them — don’t seem like they’re going to have the same kind of durability as contemporaries like “Literally no one:” meme or the now-fading “summoning circle.” Centered on a specific breaking news point, they emerged on Friday in a rush of everyone trying to make the best Mueller joke. Or, at the very least, a good enough joke to get some traction.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon. Newsworthy events, even those that occur in more isolated communities, are fixation points for social media users looking to gain some clout. This summer, I spent all of E3 2018, (the Electronics Entertainment Expo that is arguably the biggest news-making event of the video game world), cataloging memes from fans and gaming journalists who are looking to capitalize on the topics trending in their communities.

However, in this particular case, I’m inclined to believe that the flood of Mueller memes was driven not only by a thirst for clout, but also by a desire to cope with an endlessly exhausting news cycle. Mueller’s name has been floating around in my consciousness from 2017, and the investigation lost significance in my mind. It’s hard to bring myself to care about yet another political happening — even one with this much gravitas — when its potential impact seems delayed at best and far-fetched at worst. Political memes are mainstream now, but sometimes they feel like a bid to personally profit off a highly trendable — and highly hellish — news cycle.