You’ve all heard of the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s a phrase used to acknowledge the impact that a still image has in imparting meaning to its viewer. The English origin of the idiom is supposedly a modern invention stemming from various newspapers in the early 1910s, but the idea that images can elicit a visceral reaction is as old as time.
In the relatively short historical time that people have been privy to enjoying moving images through film and television, the value of photos themselves has plummeted. Gone are the days of the yearly sojourn to “the good Sears” to take a family portrait while Uncle Lou was still sober. Photography moved from a stable profession to a hobby that requires a steadfast persistence to rebuff overbearing bridezillas and cheap-ass prom moms.
Even though photographers have lost their prominence, the Internet has returned the singular image to the forefront of creative ideation. Interconnectivity has destroyed our patience for content, and thusly videos have taken a backseat to memes. Memes, reaction gifs and viral videos all move ideas through the Internet at rapid pace, but memes in particular allow an unprecedented consolidation of pop culture and shared emotion within the overarching milieu of greater culture.
The cross sections of meaning create a multiplication of thought that embrace pointed nuance. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture multiplied by black-bordered, white-impact text has to be worth at least a million. This effect is even more noticeable within the African-American community. Like the latest hot girl and her gay best friend in the Atlanta University Center, black Twitter pushes more trends into the mainstream than any other subculture.
While there are many niche communities on the Internet creating content, they are regularly sequestered to the nerd zone. “Black cool” still has clout in the online world, and the memes have been and will continue to flourish. The immediacy of the Internet has made inevitable commodification arrive much faster than in the past, so I had to unveil these now before they’re individually sponsored by Bevel.
10. Hotline Bling
This is the industry pick. But unlike the Grammys, Oscars, et al., we can acknowledge sales without claiming it’s the outright best. While undeniably popular, Drake’s calculated memefication of himself results in a deduction. Each YouTube view might as well have come with a copy of Adobe Creative Suite and a subscription to Apple Music.
9. Why You Always Lying?
In the true spirit of the Internet, Nicholas Fraser’s Vine video shot him from obscurity to ubiquity. The Vine quickly morphed into a still of Fraser’s grin that could be utilized in any situation. The meme gave us ’90s nostalgia via “Too Close” and a new word, mmmmmohmygod (the number of m’s may vary). Most importantly, it does what all good memes do: It encapsulates nuance. Because of this meme, maybe a few of us became bold enough to not lie and admit that sitting in the house butt-naked was more appealing than linking up at a happy hour.
8. Uncle Denzel
This meme presents an interesting existential thought experiment. No matter how cool you may think you are, you could become that uncle. We know that Denzel is the picture of refinery, but somehow, he found himself in an Adidas sweat suit rocking a Fu Manchu mustache. It’s almost as if his ear beckons for a Bluetooth earpiece. This also confirms that “ain’t s—t” uncle is more a spiritual state of being than individual reality. Perhaps a spiritual punishment in the Tina Turner sect of Buddhism.
7. and 6. Nick Young/Confused Girl
This is a two-for-one deal. Confused-reaction pics are common, but these two dive below the surface both emotionally and culturally. First, Nick Young, in name and behavior, has become a sort of spokesperson for youthful playfulness. His meme has followed suit. Typically, it involves older people who are a bit out of touch. If your grandmother insists The Life of Pablo got updated after your free trial ended on Tidal because you skipped church, cue up Nick.
The Confused Girl hits a feeling beyond base-level confusion. Utter incredulity is more appropriate. Only someone completely baffled could jut their neck out at a 45-degree angle like that. Even if it’s a bit dated, a terrible roommate can easily bring it back into rotation.
5. Man on Phone
Supposedly, Martin Baker was photographed as the lone black supporter at a Darren Wilson support rally. Whether or not that is true, at least his image has contributed to the black community. We’ve all had to make an exasperatingly dreadful phone call, and having Baker’s expression at your disposal makes it a little easier when Comcast customer service tells you that dialing “0” isn’t an option.
4. Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That
Way back in the olden days of 2012, an on-the-street interview from a local Oklahoma City news station gave the world Sweet Brown, and Sweet Brown gave us, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Although it’s easy to be gripped by current and Twitter-style memes, we’ve got to pay respect to the OG of time management.
3. Skeptical African Boy
At the heart of every black person is a skeptic. Skepticism sends thousands of young Hoteps to battle on street corners and in incense-filled bookstores near you. History has taught us rather harshly that people are not to be trusted. This includes well-meaning white people. Positive intentions quickly dissolve into misplaced confirmation bias. Like the Rock, this young man’s eyebrow represents the people. People who are weary of well-wishing “voluntourism.”
2. Kermit: None of My Business
This meme serves an important practical function. It shrouds one’s messiness in humor. Of course, mature adults shouldn’t call attention to someone’s hypocrisy outright, but what if a puppet could do it for you instead? While Kermit’s image has spread across a variety of memes, the original, stemming from a Lipton Tea commercial, sparked the wave. First, it involves tea. Tea is slang for a bit of secret information. Second, as a character, Kermit is known for his mild-mannered behavior. So passive-aggressively sipping a bit of tea may be exactly how he told Gonzo he noticed his fake Cement Jordans.
1. Crying Jordan
Speaking of Jordan, was there any other option? There are a number of important crying memes, including the famed Lil Mama, but His Airness once again takes the title. What makes this meme so special is that it signifies not only sadness but also palpable disappointment. Jordan is competitiveness personified; therefore, any person participating in a public contest from this point onward must beware of his iconic duality, like tragic drama masks. Victory will associate you with his ’90s-era tongue-wagging swagger, while defeat gets you the puffy weeping face of a middle-aged man.
Now, the stakes don’t have to be high for Crying Jordan to apply. An empty fridge or a closed Washington, D.C., Metro can make you want to be like Mike. If the greatest basketball player of all time can ugly-cry, then you, too, can fall from your mountaintop or footstool. Slander knows no prejudice.
Brandon Harrison lives in New York City and has Hollywood stories that rival those of Rick James. He prides himself on staying righteous and knowing more about basketball than you do. Follow him on Twitter.