Memes are the language of the internet, a natural outgrowth of an increasingly digital age. Memescape dissects them in the hopes of finding some sort of explanation beneath the collective lol.
While memes have always required a certain amount of interactivity – after all, if someone dabs in the middle of the forest and no one’s around to see it, is it still sad? – more and more seem to rely on a collective experience. Especially when there’s more than one outcome.
There was the infamous dress incident a few years back. Then Yanny and Laurel tore families and friends apart, dividing the nation so thoroughly even the White House’s PR team felt compelled to weigh in. Instead of for a laugh, people shared these out of curiosity, eager to see each other’s answers and ready to launch into argument if it didn’t match their own. Recognizing vine references or the latest copypasta may signal you’re “in” on the internet’s newest inside joke, but it doesn’t necessarily start a conversation. “White and gold or blue and black?” does.
If you subscribe to memetics – the study of, well, memes essentially – an idea’s chance at virality boils down to three elements: longevity, fecundity and replicability. But just because a meme has the capacity to go viral doesn’t mean it will, much to the dismay of public relations managers and marketing agencies. That deciding factor usually comes down to something much harder to gauge: what role it plays in our collective consciousness.
When a choose-your-own-adventure style Twitter thread went viral last month, it struck me as the natural evolution of these more divisive memes. Especially after Netflix’s recent “Bandersnatch” special proved audiences are still every bit as captivated by the genre as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s, back when you’d be hard-pressed to find a library that didn’t have entire shelves packed with the things. Though it’s much harder to cheat when I can’t simply flip forward and sneak a peek at which choices will leave me mangled at the bottom of some pit or gobbled up by snakes.
The thread, originally posted by the wonderfully named user @CORNYASSBITCH, puts you in the shoes of Beyonce’s personal assistant for the day. Straightforward choices about what the Queen Bee should eat or do quickly spiral into elaborate fever dreams if you can manage not to get fired. I wasn’t so lucky. On my first try, I got canned shortly after convincing Bee to wile away the hours before a red carpet event by getting thoroughly wasted. In retrospect, I’ll admit it wasn’t the smartest choice.
Being Beyoncé’s assistant for the day: DONT GET FIRED THREAD pic.twitter.com/26ix05Hkhp
— Green Chyna (@CORNYASSBITCH) June 23, 2019
While writing this column, I learned that other folks have tried to incorporate similar choose-your own-adventure endeavors into Twitter’s format, though not quite as seamlessly. Part of the ingenuity of this Beyonce thread is just that: the game exists entirely in a series of threads, all woven together into a single continuous experience that I can only imagine took hours to construct. Over the years, users have tried using bit.ly links, polls and individual Twitter accounts for the different outcomes of players’ choices, but the results feel more like someone manipulated the platform through sheer force instead of creating an experience native to its design.
In subsequent attempts at being Beyonce’s assistant, I caused a horrific plane crash after deciding to take off without the crew, discovered I was actually kidnapping the superstar and the whole “assistant” schtick was just a drug-induced hallucination and I helped her take Jay-Z’s ass to Red Lobster for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s listened to “Formation.” The thread has nearly 100,000 retweets, and with how funny the writing is, I completely understand why.
There’s also a lovely irony in so many people delighting in role-playing on a social media platform, a place where you can literally be anyone anytime you damn well please. Then again, just like when these stories were bound by pages instead of character limits, it’s fun to compare with other players to see how they did. Figure out what endings y’all might have missed, spot a few easter eggs. Except when it happens in real time on a global stage like Twitter, the scale feels just a bit bigger than I remember it being at my local library.
Alyse Stanley is a trash can disguised as a journalist. She’s constantly knee-deep in fandoms when she’s not writing about video games. It’s been nearly a decade, and she’s yet to shut up about Fallout: New Vegas. You can find her on Twitter at @pithyalyse.