What: The rare sketch about memes that really gets it.
Who: John Mulaney and the team at SNL.
Why we care: Immediately after the words “OK Boomer” hit the pages of The New York Times like an atom bomb last fall, generational warfare surged to the top of the national conversation. Suddenly, there was an easy, pithy way to dismiss one’s elders (or peers displaying elder-like tendencies), even though many of the kids who’d coined the phrase quickly abandoned it and moved on to the next thing.
People over 40 and people over 20 have historically been at odds with each other, but the gulf in between them at this moment seems like it must be wider than in previous cycles. It’s probably because anyone over 40 right now came of age in a world without the internet, while anyone under 20 now can scarcely conceive of what living in such a world might entail. Since two key generational differences pertain to sense of humor and ease with technology, it stands to reason that meme culture is one area where Olds and Youngs will never see eye to eye.
Boomer memes are often mean-spirited but generally unfunny, self-aggrandizing, or referencing embarrassingly out-of-date pop culture touchstones. (A popular Twitter account displays them with cropped-out punchlines to make them mean even less.) Meanwhile, teens and college students are nimble, ultra-current, and mean-spirited but often very funny. While their elders merely adopted the format, they were born into the memes, molded by them.
Since trying to invent new memes is really easy to get wrong (OK Bloomberg), the writers at SNL really hit it out of the park over the weekend. One of the standout sketches in a terrific episode depicts an upper middle-aged man (guest host John Mulaney) brutally memed by his nephew (Pete Davidson), whose memes then go on to blow up on Reddit. In order to make it work, they needed to invent a meme concept, coax a hauntingly awkward face from Mulaney, and then pack in four minutes of jokes that feel authentic to the era. Somehow, they pulled it off. Will this sketch stand the test of time? Probably not! But the very disposability of memes is part of what makes them fun, Dad!
Watch the full sketch below.