Star Wars Prequel Memes Are The Safe Haven For The Bad Joke - By Mike Doiron
We’ve all laughed at something that we shouldn’t have. I bet that even the most prudent woke person cringes when they look back to that time they laughed at a dead baby joke as they proceed to question their self worth and entire meaning of existence.
There really shouldn’t be anything to be about sad woke dude, it’s a completely natural and scientifically examined response. Still, it’s bad form to laugh at certain jokes in polite company, and today you can be criticized or worse for making these types of jokes on the internet. We live in socially volatile times, and with people asserting all sorts of different agendas, the window for appropriate jokes is getting smaller and smaller.
Enter r/PrequelMemes, the subreddit for memes about the Star Wars Prequels. The rise of this subreddit may seem like an irrelevant internet fad, but it is indeed a sign of our current culture and a clear progression of humanity’s foray into social media. To understand why, we need to look at a bit of meme history, or memistory if you will.
Back in the days of the Space Jam website, the internet was a place of exploration, unfettered information, and anonymity. Oh, and porn, lots and lots of porn. The internet also brought forth a new generation of filthy humour. I remember when I was a wide-eyed youth unaware of real life’s troubles, I would seek out offensive jokes on the internet and enjoy a chuckle or two. Who could forget Salad Fingers, or this wholesome gem from the same creator? (NSFW: very graphic content)
These videos may appear to lack production value compared to today’s standards, but it’s important to note that they did take time and proficiency to create. Eventually, the internet did what it does best, it democratized and made it possible for anyone to create.
The year was 2009, the world was about to embark into a new decade, the decade of political strife in The West, the decade of ISIS, the decade of Donald Trump, and most importantly — the decade of Memes. In 2009, we begin to see the popularization of Rage Comics and Advice Animals. These weren’t the first internet memes. We had LOLcats in 2005, and even before that was the O RLY? owl who first appeared in 2003. It’s also worth mentioning that although Rage Comics and Advice Animals memes were both popularized in 2009, they both have earlier origins.
Rage Comics were born on 4chan in 2008, and Advice Animals can trace their lineage back to the Mushroom Kingdom forums in 2006. At that time they were known as Advice Dogs. So what happened in 2009?
Reddit opened its doors in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2008 when they first allowed users to create their own subreddits. This revolutionized the site, and by extension the internet. Now there was a localized forum on basically every subject imaginable. In 2009 both r/fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu and r/AdviceAnimals were born.
This is where Advice Animals really exploded. These memes created their own iconography that was understood by people from across the internet. We now had a diverse cast of characters who all meant different things.
Rage Comics’ entry into reddit was also marked with the creation of many new characters. We’ve all seen Forever Alone Guy and I Know That Feel Bro even if we don’t know it. These memes would often make their way onto our Facebook Newsfeeds, this in turn made them appear to a much larger audience.
So what’s the point of all this?
With the rise of AdviceAnimals and Rage Comics, we began to see some blowback from the original meme communities. Advice Animals were used incorrectly and incessantly, and there was even a debate about whether or not the subreddit should allow new image macros, because, y’know, people have too much time on their hands. Rage Comics took a much darker turn.
As I mentioned above, Rage Comics were originally a fixture on 4chan. If you don’t know 4chan, you really should, because they were instrumental to the election of Donald Trump. The people of 4chan are known as Anons, because they aren’t bound to usernames, instead all posters appear as ‘Anonymous.’ 4chan users also relish in the shared identity of being a basement dwelling, socially awkward lot. Non-users are known as ‘Normies’ or ‘NPCs.’ It should also be noted that when memes from 4chan permeate other online communities that it’s known as Normielization, with memes appearing on Facebook being the official kiss of death. 4chan users are also the very best Trolls on the internet and are almost invariably male.
And then Gamergate happened. Without going into the detailed history and events that led to Gamergate, it has resulted in a cultural war between SJWs and Red Pillers. Again, without going into intricate detail, SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, and it is a pejorative term referring to left-leaning internet denizens who fight for social equality and feminism, while Red Pillers are Men’s Rights Activists. The SJWs basically wanted more female representation and less objectification in video games, while Red Pillers want their games to be left alone. It should be no surprise that 4chan sided with the Red Pillers.
With its illustrious meming history, 4chan considers itself a community of Memelords, and they started a campaign of offensive and controversial memes. They create offensive memes, “for the lulz,” which is Internetian for, “I’m doing this because I think it’s funny, and it’s also funny that people are throwing temper tantrums over it.” Regular subject matter included memes that criticised feminism and Islam, and they regularly made light of autism.
These are all new developments, so it’s hard to pin times and events down, but Gamergate is said to have begun in 2014. The problem is that some of these memes are objectively funny, and many of them are criticizing or making light of our modern day world. Many of them, however, are objectionably racist and hateful.
But who is to tell you what is funny?
Laughter is spontaneous. When you laugh at something, you rarely do so after 3 minutes of intense contemplation of whether it is appropriate or not. You shouldn’t need to pull out a chart of what is and is not acceptable, but alas, that’s the world we live in. Stand up comedians often speak about the minefield of doing their comedy on campuses. This is because many people get offended by their material and accuse the comedians of bigoted behaviour. There’s even a Community episode about it.
But this isn’t about choosing a side in that debate, this is about the sudden influx of memes about the Star Wars Prequels.
With the exception of a few outliers, it is generally accepted that the Star Wars Prequels were an abomination. The dialogue was terribly written, the acting was stilted, there was Jar Jar Binks, but at the same time, it was Star Wars. We all saw the movies because it was a cultural phenomenon. They were monumental disappointments to almost everyone who saw them, but despite all of this, they were just a movie and we’re past it now, and we’re in the golden age of memes.
Humans like joking about bad things. It helps us cope with some of the dark realities worlds, but we’re in a unique time in our history where we’re examining what is and isn’t appropriate humour. We’re left to reflect how our off-colour humour affects the actual people and communities at the butt of the joke, but the Star Wars Prequels aren’t people or communities, they’re films that are so innocuously egregious that no reasonable person can be genuinely insulted. It’s safe to play the, “I’m saying this bad thing, but it’s just a joke,” card.
We’re joking about someone burning alive, but it’s harmless. It has nothing to do with racism, feminism, war, suffering, or the patriarchy. It’s just something that happened on-screen. No one looks at this and gets offended, even though it’s about someone burning alive, and if you are offended you might need to reevaluate your values in life.
We’re facing a time in our life where censorship is becoming a major issue. Many on the left argue that we’re in a time where we need to be sensitive to all peoples before we speak. On the right, Donald Trump is threatening to, “open up those libel laws,” presumably so he can shut his critics up. It means that making a joke is becoming a minefield, and in the dominant age of social media it’s hard to know what followers and friends are going to find appropriate, but in all of this, it’s comforting to know that there’s one safe haven for the bad joke.