These 23 memes helped us make sense of 2020

Digital natives dealt with a uniquely terrible year the only way we knew how: memes.

These 23 memes helped us make sense of 2020
[Photo: AltoClassic/iStock]

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.


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.


Musical hand-washing

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.



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.

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.

Baking bad 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Everything is cake

At a time when nothing was as it should have been, it only made sense that everything would secretly be cake.

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.

Electoral purgatory

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.)