Sometimes, memes are just joke competitions about whatever just happened.
Sometimes, they’re much more.
Not to discount other common coping mechanisms—wine, weed, and Animal Crossing—but memes proved indispensable for processing each horrifying new 2020 trauma. They were outlets for people to make sense of what was happening by making fun of it, which made the whole thing a little more bearable.
Here’s a look back at 23 memes that helped us deal with the current confluence of clusterfucks.
Bernie is once again asking
When perennial champion of the middle class Bernie Sanders had to ask his base to “once again” pony up for his primary bid, the internet turned his query into a meme—one that Sanders himself later repurposed to talk about mask safety.
me to ppl i’ve met four times pic.twitter.com/QrmyIrqXAQ
— sadgayboi (@sadgayboi) February 5, 2020
my cats moments after i've filled her food bowl pic.twitter.com/6oRYYK5Onl
— rae ????⬛ paoletta (@PAYOLETTER) February 3, 2020
I am once again asking you to wear a mask.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 24, 2020
Nancy Pelosi’s stunt of the union
After a lie-filled speech during which Trump, on the verge of being acquitted in his impeachment trial by an aggressively incurious Republican senate, gave the medal of freedom to a guy who has repeatedly defended slavery and suggested Michael J. Fox was faking Parkinson’s, Speaker Pelosi followed up her 2019 weird clap by tearing up a copy of Trump’s speech. Thankfully, Twitter responded by mocking the impotence of that gesture.
Me ripping up the study guide after failing the test: pic.twitter.com/HVPXObzpGG
— Josh Silverman (@JoshMSilverman) February 5, 2020
When Columbia House sent me a bill after I got 12 CDs for a penny:
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) February 5, 2020
Before much of the country went into lockdown, the scientific community urged Americans to wash their hands for the length of a song chorus. Americans then had no choice but to make memes about which song it should be. As goofy as these jokes were, though, they helped start to transition everyone who made or read them into a pandemic mindset—including some bands.
— Sam Mintz (@samjmintz) March 9, 2020
Washing in the name of…
On this occasion it's best you do what they tell ya pic.twitter.com/unDdBh1HDh
— Rage Against The Machine ???? (@RATM) March 9, 2020
Working from home
Memes were how Americans started grappling with suddenly not having an office to go to. These memes seem kind of adorable now, though, for how little their creators knew about how long the pandemic would last.
Live footage of me, my wife and my daughter all working from home today (and for the next two weeks) pic.twitter.com/c8NuSQit3Q
— Dan Saltzstein (@dansaltzstein) March 11, 2020
working from home for 1 day because you feel like it
working from home for weeks because you have to pic.twitter.com/gIpiMcPHHr
— laser (@bobby) March 10, 2020
Who’s Zooming whomst?
Around this time, in early March, we also first started making jokes about Zoom, the remote meeting technology that would soon become as familiar to us all as our own faces.
The original Zoom meeting pic.twitter.com/WSCYkaTCHP
— John M. Cunningham (@jmcunning) March 28, 2020
— Stephen Clarke (@stephenwclarke) March 11, 2020
Zoom background memes
Pretty soon, people began to realize you could change the background of your Zoom interface to just about anything you wanted, like a personal green screen, and that was cute for a while.
Finally found the perfect background for my zoom meetings pic.twitter.com/G6VBnZVkYN
— rob (@RobDa64) March 26, 2020
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) March 30, 2020
no matter what I do, it doesn’t get any better pic.twitter.com/7A6dAB7QG5
— first-mate prance (@bocxtop) April 5, 2020
Gal Gadot has an active imagination
The Wonder Woman star surely meant well in late March when she posted an Instagram video of herself and other celebrities absolutely murdering John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Unfortunately, the video only highlighted, for the first of many times in the pandemic, that celebrities are not just like us.
the celebrities singing imagine to us poor common folk during a pandemic pic.twitter.com/i4nWJYN9o5
— vienna is typing… (@kinokobunny) March 19, 2020
Gal Gadot's Imagine video annotated with Net Worths pic.twitter.com/VvRlwTzkXv
— asimpledingus (@asimpledingus) March 19, 2020
The pandemic is Parasite
In fact, the pandemic opened up a lot of conversations about class distinctions, many of which were handily summarized by images from the film, Parasite, whose Best Picture win was among the few good things that happened in 2020.
please check your basement https://t.co/6X2rfkmv3p
— ponyo fishy in the sea (@niazahraaa) March 19, 2020
unknowingly provides shelter to two people in his basement https://t.co/ifPWHWAT02
— Hanif Abdurraqib (@NifMuhammad) April 24, 2020
The short reign of Tiger King
Early into lockdown, seemingly everyone in the world watched Netflix’s Tiger King at the same time and, sure enough, found ways in which the series reflected our rapidly shifting reality.
ME, AT THE START OF EACH DAY: i’m gonna do a better job of playing with my kid today when he asks me to play with him
ME, TEN MINUTES LATER AS HE JUMPS ON MY BACK TRYING TO GET A THIRD PIGGYBACK RIDE AS I TRY TO EAT MY BREAKFAST: pic.twitter.com/7So5kqyGOJ
— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) April 2, 2020
— wileekylee (@wileekylee) March 23, 2020
every comedian’s bedroom rn pic.twitter.com/7w95KjvOCt
— Ben Leary (@benlearyy) March 26, 2020
Michael Jordan gets the opposite of a cryface
After Tiger King lost its luster, the cabin-feverish masses glommed on to the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, and found relevance buried within it.
Me looking at my electric bill after being home for 30+ days pic.twitter.com/I06ZHDt5qv
— Black Adam (@AD_Renaissance) April 27, 2020
Us: "Sports are coming back soon!"
— Eli Hershkovich (@EliHershkovich) May 11, 2020
Nature is healing, we are the virus
In firing off a solid joke about the prevalence of Lime scooters in his town, Twitter user @taladorei created one of the most prevalent catchphrases of the pandemic. It quickly got absorbed into online culture and became a setup for jokes about how Earth would be better off without humans.
Wow. Cows are returning to the sea. Nature is healing. ???? We are the virus. ???? pic.twitter.com/xoZ2Rj1wHJ
— Tiago P. Zanetic (@TPZanetic) April 11, 2020
This photo of the Hudson River was taken yesterday. The earth is healing. We are the virus. pic.twitter.com/QDTizi2i6Q
— Mark Lee (@meesterleesir) April 12, 2020
As the pandemic stretched on, it suddenly seemed like most of the world adopted the same hobby at once, while the rest of the world adopted a side hobby of making fun of that hobby.
scientists say week two of quarantine is when you become someone who bakes their own bread or someone who posts their own nudes. there’s no in between. these are the only choices
— Matt Bellassai (@MattBellassai) March 23, 2020
I don’t want to bake bread I want to go outside and have sex
— mary beth (@marybethbarone) April 1, 2020
My plans vs. 2020
Gradually, people started to realize that this new arrangement wasn’t going to be as temporary as it first seemed, and that whatever they had planned for the year beyond February was probably off the table.
My plans/2020 pic.twitter.com/m4njkGM1fZ
— Brian Lynch (@BrianLynch) May 18, 2020
My plans 2020 pic.twitter.com/sjAYcNbUDn
— mad men pics (@madmenpics) May 18, 2020
A reverse boycott for beans
Not that there was ever a boycott of Goya products to begin with, after the company’s CEO publicly voiced support for President Trump, but there was indeed a reverse boycott once Ivanka Trump shilled for the company. Followed by many jokes about it.
Ivanka está loca: pic.twitter.com/8A01WrldBi
— St. Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) July 15, 2020
don't mind if i do! pic.twitter.com/0JL0tqGHVK
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) July 15, 2020
Antagonist of the day
After a while, it seemed like every day would bring about a new viral star, who became briefly infamous for overreacting to inconvenience. These were people like Fajita Wife, whose husband raged against long wait times in pandemic restaurants, and people like the St. Louis Gun Couple, who bared arms against Black Lives Matter protesters passing by their house.
Whoever the antagonist of the day was quickly got memed into oblivion.
My wife, date night after 3+ months locked up on quarantine. Waiting for shredded cheese as it’s the only way she can eat fajitas. We’ve asked 4 people, going on 18 minutes now. Just unreal at Allen, TX location. We gotta quit blaming #COVID19 for crappy service. pic.twitter.com/vGG4k7fboP
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 28, 2020
My wife, date night after 3+ months locked up on quarantine. Waiting for shredded cheese as it’s the only way she can eat fajitas. We’ve asked 4 people, going on 18 minutes now. Just unreal at Allen, TX location. We gotta quit blaming #COVID19 for crappy service. pic.twitter.com/dhhSbQNKvC
— alex (@alex_abads) June 28, 2020
When the Applebee's server says there's no Michelob Ultra left pic.twitter.com/UIrkHD6pzC
— Eric Renner Brown (@ericrennerbrown) June 29, 2020
the NIMBYonese Liberation Army pic.twitter.com/0k4XnehSJ0
— the dumb cities initiative???? (@uhshanti) June 29, 2020
Mentally I’m here
An aspirational tweet from @milkygoddess sparked a meme that encompassed both whimsical wishes for travel beyond home, and weird, funny things that people couldn’t stop thinking about for whatever reason, like that inexplicable baseball game in Twilight.
Mentally I'm here pic.twitter.com/1QAmMMUEWX
— maria miguel café (@vffangirl) July 24, 2020
mentally i’m here pic.twitter.com/FuzCxrop7D
— sabrina (@tyincherryknots) August 18, 2020
Everything is cake
At a time when nothing was as it should have been, it only made sense that everything would secretly be cake.
so what you’re telling me is while i’ve been locked in my house for months everything is now a cake
— nesrin danan (@blackprints) July 12, 2020
Everything is a cake, Earth is a hyper-realistic cake pic.twitter.com/8y3wkvb3Dl
— 'åntë???? (@cornrowkin) July 13, 2020
How it started vs. how it’s going
From its humble beginnings as a cute timeline for romantic relationships, this before-and-after meme gradually evolved into a vehicle for commenting on a wide variety of the year’s most important issues.
Mitch McConnell promised to save coal jobs.
How it started How it’s going pic.twitter.com/akMviYMZ3a
— Amy McGrath (@AmyMcGrathKY) October 27, 2020
how it started how it's going pic.twitter.com/DhJXU3yy1f
— pixelatedboat aka “mr christmas” (@pixelatedboat) October 30, 2020
How it started: How it’s going: pic.twitter.com/9yFXKyYNuR
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) December 21, 2020
In the four days between the election and its (initial!) conclusion, not one but two memes emerged about a wearying moment of electoral purgatory.
First there were the jokes about Trump’s “STOP THE COUNT!” tweet.
You can’t stop the count. That’s what he does. pic.twitter.com/KwRVY2DBim
— StoneHeadof (@StoneHeadof) November 5, 2020
— Fascism flattened, but never the webrant????——???? (@web_rant) November 5, 2020
Then a crop of memes emerged after Joe Biden officially won in Pennsylvania, all but assuring his overall victory, an outcome that seemed only too fitting after Trump’s much-maligned warning: “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
— alex (@alex_abads) November 6, 2020
I guess GOOD things happened in Philadelphia. pic.twitter.com/qgpqN8pCCM
— Rob McElhenney (@RMcElhenney) November 6, 2020
This claim is disputed
Twitter sure seemed to give Trump a flyer on blatant lying throughout his presidency. Once he appeared to be on his way out the door, however, the company decided to slap a warning on his tweets lying about the election outcome. Considering how often Trump lied about the election in subsequent tweets, this warning became a very familiar sight on Twitter. It eventually also became meme fodder.
I hate this website pic.twitter.com/LdqfMf5Nui
— Steven Castillo (@STEEEZUSCHRIST) November 16, 2020
FEELING PRETTY GOOD RIGHT NOW ABOUT THINGS!
⨂ ???????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????? ???????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????? ???????????? ???????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????? ????????????????????????????????????????????
— jonny sun wrote a new book! (@jonnysun) November 16, 2020
Don’t worry about it
Finally, with the election wrapping up and several vaccines on the way, a pair of memes emerged six weeks apart, putting in perspective the relative safety of both Biden’s tax plan and the vaccine.
If your pillow looks like this DO NOT worry about Biden's tax plan ???? pic.twitter.com/SEjtU2gD1S
— ????coco puff???? (@cocoxlong) November 2, 2020
if you use these as your bathroom trash bags YOU DO NOT NEED TO WORRY about biden’s tax plan pic.twitter.com/wQHapOeGwv
— ????????Full Christmas Woods???????? (@dcwoods89) November 3, 2020
If you’ve ever applied the five second rule, you don’t need to worry about what’s in the vaccine
— ADHoliDean (@ADHDeanASL) December 15, 2020
If you have ever picked up one of these with your barehands, you don’t need to worry about what’s in the vaccine. pic.twitter.com/LlObdM5G4n
— FunctioningSadaholic (@JacobDisagrees) December 18, 2020
Taken together, the many memes of 2020 are a tribute to the indomitable nature of the human spirit. If we memed our way through the apocalypse, we can make it through anything.
So, bring it on, 2021. No matter what you take away from us, we’ll still have our sense of humor.
(Although it is fairly easy to imagine the words Bring it on, 2021 being the first half of a withering “how it started vs. how it’s going” meme at some sad later date.)