Against a backdrop of chaos that can only be described as unfathomable, there exists a swath of memes that share a counterintuitive message: Don’t think (:.
Tasked with processing so much news, so quickly, on such a high level, the Very Online in our midst—the ones who medicate Twitter vertigo by scrolling TikTok, who blunt the influx of heinous headlines with happy Instagram chemicals—are memeing about not processing anything at all. Their brains are too smooth. Their heads are too empty. It’s an aspirational peace of mind, like when a kid plugs their ears mid-lecture to say, “la la la, I can’t hear you,” but really, they still can; they’re just making a statement about what they want.
By June of this year, the jab-jab-uppercut of high-level happenings had stupefied many of the folks perennially jacked in to feeds: the Australian wildfires, the pandemic, police brutality, the economy’s collapse, hell, the murder hornets. It was a lot—more than any one person could process, let alone explain. Across the web, on Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, or Tumblr, commenters complain they are fed up with living through history, that they would please like to opt out.
Throughout 2020, flowing under the cultural wreckage, has been a hypercurrent of memes reflecting this tired cultural id. Reject humanity return to monke. No thoughts head empty. Smooth brain no weinkls. (In some iterations, “yuor brain” in which “thinks! = sad!!” is compared to “my brain,” which resembles an uncooked chicken breast but also “can’t think” and is therefore “no sad.”) On TikTok, a woman identified as It’s ya girl UwU covered Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” replacing the booming synth with dazed “nee noo nee noo” sounds and the lyrics with “It’s the final brain cell.” Hundreds of TikTokkers used the audio for their own clips, draping themselves with shapeless hoodies or blankets and expressionlessly bouncing up and down.
“It’s probably no accident this stuff is cropping up at a time when there’s nothing but complications out there,” says Ryan Milner, a professor of internet culture at College of Charleston and author of 2017’s The World Made Meme. “We have to know who the acting undersecretary of transportation is at any given time. It makes sense we have humor that offers this appealing take on putting your head in the sand.”