If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve probably seen part of Kim Kardashian’s 40th birthday post caption attached to various movie stills or other pop culture references. Kardashian recently celebrated her birthday this year by renting out a private island for her closest “inner circle,” where they “could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.” Her numerous tone deaf social media posts of their island getaway garnered lots of criticism; because really, “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” However, despite all the criticism, Kardashian doubled down on her posts, unapologetically sharing more pictures throughout the week.
But I’m not here to talk about Kardashian’s blatant privilege or tactless posts, I’m here to talk about the stream of memes that followed.
Like with many other things the Kardashian-Jenners do, people responded negatively to Kardashian’s birthday posts. Many mocked Kardashian while sharing their own personal hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These long-winded tweets reach only so many people, mainly the user’s followers and those who take the time to look through the replies. Among this small audience, there will also always be people who will defend Kardashian. This often causes strangers to fight back and forth behind their screens, which accomplishes little to nothing.
Memes, on the other hand, are funny, lighthearted and have much greater potential to go viral. Many of the memes born from Kardashian’s 40th birthday posts earned thousands of likes and retweets, such as this one using photos from the failed 2017 Fyre Festival.
Because memes often effectively satirize the subject they’re based on, people usually don’t try to argue against them. Rather, upon seeing a meme, a social media user will typically laugh along, “like” it and maybe even share it for more users to see. In the memes that sprung from Kardashian’s 40th birthday post, the criticism for her insensitivity is already implied. In meme-form, criticism reaches far more people than a single tweet or comment voicing various objections. In fact, it was the many memes made about Kardashian’s post that made the Twitter trending page rather than direct oppositions against Kardashian herself.
The power of memes is undeniable. Not only can it spread jabs at the Kardashian family, but it can also influence our own lives as well. In 2018, a rush of memes relating to Apple AirPods caused an increase in sales and popularity. The Netflix original “Bird Box” amassed record numbers because of the “Bird Box Challenge” and related memes as well. With a generation built on the internet, 24-hour news cycles, and content designed for short attention spans, memes offer a quick and concise way to spread ideas and disapproval.
Throughout the years, the Kardashian-Jenner family has unintentionally given rise to several memes — “Kim, there’s people that are dying,” “rise and shine” and “this is a case for the FBI.” People love to make fun of the Kardashian-Jenners as much as others love to watch them, making any Kardashian meme easy to spread and engrain into our culture. These memes allow for judgement and dissent to be more widespread, less refuted and relevant for longer periods. Without memes, Kim Kardashian’s tone deaf 40th birthday post may have been just another short-lived problematic headline from the Kardashians.
Jacqueline Nguyen is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.