Dirt: Affirmation memes for millennial dreams

Is this Instagram account sincere or not!?

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

Angella d’Avignon investigates @afffirmations, a surreal Instagram account that seems to provide all the mantras we need for contemporary life.

My graphic designer friend recently confessed over text he googled "increasing self-esteem for artists" punctuated with the self-effacing "lol" at the end of his text. I’m no less embarrassing: I recently paid an East Village psychic way too much money to tell me what I already knew. I craved a mystical professional to confirm my pandemic desperation and repeat it back to me in tacky magic mantras. 

My friend and I are not the only ones in search of magic (and jobs). And lately I’ve noticed an increase in "neutral" messaging and self-acceptance content on my Instagram feed. There are self-care explainer slides like ”How To Recognize a Toxic Person in your life” in funkadelic typefaces; messaging on how to blame your anxiety as the reason you won’t be leaving the house; jarring statistics on domestic violence and abuse in a casual brush script font; and mediocre, blown-out flash phone shots of crystals first posted to Instagram stories with corresponding text THEN posted to main. The rush to build collective self-esteem saturates the platform with bad graphics and off-putting diagrams with indistinctive advice. The effort to ~manifest~ and ~normalize~ across Instagram specifically ranges from bot-like nonsense splashed over gorgeous imagery to clinical-grade psychological advice with entry-level graphic design. Anyone can contribute to rebuilding global mental health with a stock image of the galaxy and a quote ripped from goodreads.com.

Then there’s true art. A week later that same graphic designer friend posted a meme that blew my hair back. It was an icescape in pale pastel, frozen waterfalls in the foreground and a majestic rising planet in the sky beyond, a high fantasy softness to its edges like a mirage of a better future from a sci-fi book I loved in sixth grade when my prefrontal cortex could still imagine worlds outside my own. The text is what truly thrilled me, though, a declaration in a bright yellow Arial bold with a drop shadow, stretched to fit the image: This weekend will be LEGENDARY.

Enter @afffirmations (with three f’s), the techno spiritual guide to the sublime in shitposting. An anonymous account with a 152k follower count that posts ~10 new memes once, sometimes twice, a day. A true abundance of content.

The @afffirmations grid blends a perfect aesthetic ratio of lowbrow to high. Overextended and poorly edited images of Selena Gomez with her face blurred, faintly pixelated nature scenes, and warped stock images of luxury hotel rooms serve as background to charged, high-confidence statements. A signature style is blurring out faces and replacing them with lens flares to emulate “energy,” evoking the experience of being unable to recognize faces in a dream.

In another era and economy, the statements could be delivered by Patrick Bateman and no one would blink. In our low-energy, trauma-laden pandemic era, the statements ring with a delusion so relatable and so piqued they approach euphoria. (The bio line reads: GLOBAL SELF HYPNOSIS, the chaotic good equivalent of QAnon's diagnosis as a "mass delusion.") 

Comment sections have begun to fill with followers’ personal mantras in all caps, like a concert arena’s worth of users screaming their dreams to a seance psychic. “I AM COSMIC VIBES” types one. “WE ARE ALL BIG BOSS COASTAL DJ” reads another. As a people, online, we’re only as strong as our memes. If your following is a movement not unlike a cult, you’re only as strong as your members’ boldest mantra.

If anxious SpongeBob memes were absurdist Zoomer Dada, @afffirmations represents the tight spiral into internet Surrealism. The aspiration is total, the visuals are taut and controlled. The messenger is a meme-lord and the message is that they're just working with what they've got, which is a desktop file full of degraded jpegs and a sense of bone-deep exhaustion with having to continue clicking on our computers while people die in hospitals all around us. On the physical realm, strangled by measured time, society is trapped by a pandemic and all it entails. On @afffirmations we’re astral projecting to a private-jet travel brochure, Teen Choice Awards, hyper-abundance luxury dreamscape. 

In providing mantra-memes that hit a little too hard, @afffirmations twists the consummate expression of global disillusionment by handing us an ironic antidote. What I'm saying is that this meme account encapsulates the internet version of mid-to-post-pandemic spirituality, a daily handbook for the aesthete with ADHD and good intentions of finishing what they started. It pulsates the toxic positivity of Protestant-style capitalism with the quality toggle slid all the way to whatever the opposite of "lossless" is. It demonstrates complete faith in the investment that is self-improvement. @afffirmations is call-in culture, George Bush instructing Americans to shop after 9/11, what Chuck Palahniuk wishes he could be if he had a sense of humor. Lisa Frank meets 032c.

Amid heartbreak I'd been gaming my Instagram Explore page pretty hard, clicking and liking extremely cheesy de-skilled memes with quotes from Ram Dass and Rupi Kaur. This is my quarantine leisure as self-care: indulging in emotionally petty sentiments and allowing what I presume are 12-year-olds with tablets to gas me up into a state of better mental health. We are post-crystal, post-bath as self-care; the selfie as radical act has been co-opted and satiated (but please don’t stop posting your faces, I want to see them). If religion is the hyper-specific method of coping with the unknown then chasing the algorithm for answers is the most vague. I want to believe and the memes at @afffirmations genuinely make me feel good. I am indeed looking forward to performing well this week. Big changes are coming. Beauty does pervade every aspect of my existance— By Angella d’Avignon

The Dirt: We are our ancestors’ wildest memes.