I am blessed with geeky, teenage kids who point out interesting things going on in the vast, fecund soup of the Internet. Thanks to them, I now know how to deal with trolls (and what a trollface is), what photo-bombing means, and I’ve discovered a fascinating cluster of memes spawned from Advice Animals.
If you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, Google “Advice Animals”. Reddit will get you started. Know Your Meme is also a useful place to go if, like me, you have other things to do besides investing hours keeping au courant with the latest posting everybody is LOL-ing about.
What began as Advice Dog has hydra-headed into a huge pantheon of stock images onto which captions are placed, not unlike LOL Cats, with the same wide variability in cleverness. The assortment is vast, from Hipster Kitty, which shows its Cheeseburger roots, to Lame Pun Coon (self-explanatory) to Joseph Ducreux (yes, seriously), to Creeper Canine (a lot are based purely on eloquent animal expressions, especially dogs). But what intrigues me is the way stereotypes emerge, get used, even get exploded (as in Ordinary Muslim Man).
They remind me of other template jokes, as in “How many ??? does it take to screw in a light bulb?” The laugh is derived from how well you use the joke template to draw on our shared perceptions of some specific group, such as psychiatrists (One, but the light bulb has to want to change) or princesses (One, she just holds the light bulb and the world turns around her). These sorts of jokes can be appallingly offensive or riotously funny, sometimes simultaneously, depending on the joke and the stereotype being drawn upon.
What makes this particular incarnation of the template joke fascinating is partly the technology. There are sites available where you can construct your own and then post it. QuickMeme is not only good for this, but is also a crash course in what the templates are (and there are more being added continuously). The other thing that is fascinating is the kind of stereotype that has taken over. It’s a reflection of our culture. Types include Annoying Facebook Girl, Family Tech Support Guy, and High Expectations Asian Father. Quite an expansion over the blond, ethnic and gay repertoire.
Like their predecessors, these humor constructions work because we recognize the types. Yes, they are crass generalizations, but if there weren’t real life representatives out there that we know and relate to, they wouldn’t ring true, or funny, to us. It is a human thing. And like the Black or Jewish comedian who draws on his own people for material, part of what makes us laugh is not just recognizing others, but recognizing ourselves.
And that can be unsettling.