The 11 Best Memes of the Decade

If you disagree, just shout at your screen, and Mark Zuckerberg will let me know.

The concept of a meme describes a unit of cultural information that mutates and evolves as it is passed along and interacts with other memes.

This process mirrors the way genetic evolution takes place, and just like genes, it can be hard to really define the boundaries of any particular meme. Technically Christianity could be defined as a meme—though the folks over at r/dankchristianmemes might disagree.

Colloquially, the term is used to describe certain forms of image macros, as well as blocks of text that are repeatedly copied and pasted—"copypastas," and endless variations on these themes. It's an increasingly broad category that can be used to describe all sorts of internet phenomena, but as an extremely online white man who has done the bare minimum of research—i.e. an expert—I can say with certainty that the following 11 meme formats (not the specific images themselves) are the best that this decade has produced.

Of course, everyone has their own preferences in matters of taste like this, so feel free to leave your incorrect opinions in the comments.

10 Guy

10 Guy

10 Guy is the face of joyful and oblivious confusion. He doesn't know he's confused, and he doesn't particularly care. While the intended function of this meme was to capture the kind of thoughts that occur when a person is as high as it's possible to be—a 10 out of 10—it's equally appropriate for capturing the everyday neural misfires that result in putting your phone in the fridge and saying "you too" when the waitress tells you to enjoy your meal. 10 Guy is not as well known as many of the items on this list, but it's such an effective and funny packaging for a relatable experience that it has stuck around since 2011 and still gets some use to this day.

Starter Packs

starter pack

Reddit user u/NotBrigitte

Starter Packs originated in 2014, and have grown to be one of the most recognizable and versatile meme formats today. They can be used to highlight unusual situations and find solidarity in common experiences, but more often than not they are used to attack others. We all like to judge people who are different than us, and starter packs are among the best ways to do it online. Define a group of people you don't like with a handful of accessories, phrases, and personal defects, and you can turn a vague assemblage of distasteful traits into a monolithic Other. Starter Packs are often amusing in their incisive exposure of the regimented and superficial personas that people choose to project, but they too often function as an outlet for the unfortunate human instinct to dehumanize and invent divisions in order to elevate ourselves.

Virgin vs. Chad

virgin chad

Reddit user u/zamoon

Virgin vs. Chad memes share a lot in common with starter packs, but they establish a binary in-group—the Chads—to juxtapose with the detested Other—the virgins. This format adopts the slang of toxic communities of men online—and the "virgin" artwork was originally a sincere artifact of that culture. The absurd image of the Chad, however, was created as a direct response, mocking the perspective of the original artist, and lends an inherent tone of self-deprecation that makes Virgin vs. Chad memes better suited for ironic or exaggerated dichotomies than sincere attacks on an out-group—though the format is often used by people who don't seem to understand that...

Galaxy Brain

galaxy brain

The Daily Dot

Galaxy Brain is similarly a meme that can be used sincerely—as a step-wise progression from a conventional opinion on an issue all the way up to a god-like enlightenment—but is more appropriately used with an ironic bent. The ironic usage has come to predominate to such an extent that, since the meme first appeared in 2017, the terms "galaxy brain" and "galaxy brained" have become synonymous with people and opinions that are smugly oblivious to their own stupidity. There are multiple versions of the format with variations that make it flexible enough to accommodate any issue on which there are a variety of opinions.

Epic Handshake

The Epic Handshake meme represents the other side of the Galaxy Brain hierarchy of opinions. In this meme, there is only one correct opinion, and two usually distinct groups are brought into an unlikely alliance by their agreement. Adapted from a scene out of 1987's Predator—depicting a hyper-manly meeting between Arnold Schwartzenegger and Carl Weathers—the handshake had already been fodder for viral videos and fan art for nearly a decade when, in 2018, a twitter user started labeling each bicep with a different group and the clasped hands with the idea that has unified them. It's a symbol of unity for our divided times.

Corn Cob

Originating in a 2011 tweet from @dril, the concept of corn cobbing—and of visually representing a person as transforming into a corncob—refers to the phenomenon of a person actively denying their humiliation when they have been made to look foolish. It's unclear why a corncob was chosen as the symbol of denial, but the concept of visibly transforming while vehemently denying that anything has happened is a potent image of a common mentality online—particularly when it comes to political debates. The term gained an added level of comedy when its cryptic strangeness was misinterpreted by centrist political pundits as being in some way homophobic or related to sexual violence. Their indignant misunderstanding was taken as proof of their self-righteous tendencies, and the term Corn Cob has thus taken on a second meaning, synonymous with out-of-touch political centrists.

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Popeye's Chicken Sandwich: How FOMO Will Kill Us All

Get One Now Before it Brings on Armageddon

Policy Genius

Last night, after work, I walked down to the Popeye's in midtown Manhattan, with a faint hope that I might be able to get in on the chicken sandwich hysteria.

Their infamous sandwich has finally returned after being sold out in an unprecedented frenzy this summer. Whatever food-science voodoo they're doing in their corporate labs has burrowed into America's cultural brain and laid eggs in the structure responsible for lifting one eyebrow skeptically and muttering, "It's just a f*cking sandwich…"

midtown popeye's line NBC News

With one new item on their menu, Popeye's has cemented itself as a major player in fast food and dealt a major blow to the evil empire of Chik-Fil-A. FOMO has taken over. People are literally dying and killing for these sandwiches. None of us wants to miss out on the latest sensation in mass-produced dining, and that includes me. As much as I'd like to point to journalistic motives for making the trek, I really wanted to try this sandwich, and I was really disappointed when I found that a line of 40 people had formed…despite the fact that the sandwich already sold out.

I was not optimistic that my commute home would offer better prospects, but I was in luck. Deep in Queens, not only was the line reduced to a more modest 30 people and moving at a rapid pace, but there were plenty of sandwiches to go around. At the front of the line, three cashiers were in constant motion to keep the customers and their sandwiches flowing. They had gotten their methods down to an assembly-line science that resulted in me receiving three sandwiches, two biscuits, and a side of coleslaw within two minutes of placing my order.

A very tasty sandwich

As happy as I was to be in and out so quickly, none of this seemed like a good sign for the sandwich itself. How could any sandwich assembled in such a systematized way—sold by the thousands for four dollars a pop—deliver on the hype that this one had been receiving? I was expecting disappointment. I was expecting a soggy, sloppy, luke-warm mess. Still, I wanted to give it a proper chance. I wasn't going to wait until I got home while sauce and steam were compromising the breading, soaking into the bun. I unwrapped and bit into the first sandwich a few steps from Popeye's entrance. It was…orgasmic.

Or at least, you know, really tasty. There's no use denying the truth that Popeye's has achieved a fast-food miracle. Something so affordable has no business being this good. I've had better sandwiches now and then, but not without spending three times as much, and even then, it's been noteworthy. But Popeye's breading is crisp and flaky, without a hint of grease. The brioche bun is soft and slightly sweet, meat is juicy and tender, full of subtle flavors brought out by the mayo, with just the right amount of salt and crunch from the pickles.

Way overrated

Having eaten one, the insane response it has received suddenly becomes the most obvious and predictable part of the story. It is undoubtedly overhyped, but only in the way that puppies are overhyped—because there is no sandwich and no baby animal that can fill the tremendous void in your life…but it can sure feel that way for a few minutes. The real issue is not that the sandwich is overhyped, it's that the sandwich exposes what might be the most destructive force in our society: FOMO is going to kill us all.

The McRib Nice try, McNobodiesGetty Images

How much waste and human misery is spreading out from Popeye's new sandwich and the ravening masses of us that are lining up for it? How many new franchises will open to tap into the demand? The transitory hyper-focus of internet culture has bled into literal meatspace. It's the "OK, boomer" of franchise dining, the "Gangnam Style" of foods. A meal—a physical, edible object—has somehow been memeified and gone viral, resulting in new heights of employee exploitation, untold expenditures for production, shipping, and processing, and what must be a pretty slim profit margin at this price point. People will inevitably compare it to the McRib, but that sandwich is a seasonal blip compared to this. This is a true game changer for fast food—to be followed by so many failed attempts to recreate it and a restructuring of business models to maximize the potential for this sort of craze.

Even if we know we're being played…we really won't want to miss out on what everyone is talking about. And to maximize on that impulse, whatever everyone is talking about will have to be cheap, ubiquitous, and available right f*cking now. Food heightens the FOMO phenomenon, because food is universal, but the same pressures are there for fashion, electronics, cosmetics. It's the iPhone 11, New Era caps, and Kylie Lip Kits. It's a new Black Friday every week, and if you don't go line up now, you are already falling behind.

Ninth Annual MTV Movie Awards - Arrivals If you haven't already tried this sandwich, you are Chris Kirkpatrick's paisley bucket hat WireImage

So how do we counter the disease of hyper-consumption when consumption is the currency of our culture? If you have to consume to participate in the moment—and you absolutely have to participate in the moment—how do we save the planet? In a civilization where people will wait in line and fight and die before they miss out on the new sandwich everyone is talking about, the planet doesn't stand a chance.

Also, Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself.