Dirt: Deep fried memes
One method for making a meme totally indecipherable to the uninitiated is “deep-frying” it. Though “deep-fried memes” originated on Tumblr and were popularized by Black Twitter, they’re most often associated now with the boys of Reddit. The subreddit r/DeepFriedMemes had 1 million members and self-described as a living archive for “memes that imitate and exaggerate the degradation of an image,” before the moderators made the forum private in 2020. (In a farewell letter published via a public Google Doc, one mod wrote that the popularity of the subreddit had doomed it; “people began frying more lazily.”) It’s a category of form, not content, and the original meme can be almost anything, but in practice the jokes skew toward the “bruh” and “too lit,” sex and weed and guns and Yoda. These images, crackling with yellow-white noise and blurred like the edges of a CGI ghost, evoke the distance between writer and reader on social platforms. Posts are refracted through filter after filter and pixels lost through screenshot after screenshot, singeing off the fingerprints. If a human face goes through this process, it never fails to come out the other side demonic. If this startles you, it seems to say, you haven’t spent enough time online. The deep-fried One Direction memes on Tumblr are “deep-fried” not just because of the way they look—like magazine pages forgotten in the pocket of a pair of jeans that have then gone through a washing machine—but because they announce the absurdity of knowing enough about One Direction to appreciate them.
While many of the biggest subreddits for niche interests in gaming and internet culture explicitly prohibit “normies,” to my knowledge no one on Tumblr has ever bothered to do anything like that. You simply wouldn’t wind your way to the center of a Tumblr subcommunity without effort—drive-by spectatorship is unlikely, and when it happens, it’s immediately checked by the indecipherability of the conversations and images it witnesses. One of my favorite deep-fried One Direction memes—which looks as though it might have been, at one point, several lives ago, a screenshot of a tweet—was posted to Tumblr with a fuzzy background, the color of an eyeball in close-up, and bold Times New Roman text that is chopped off on one side and decapitated all along the top. “Friend: i don’t like 1D Because there not bad boy” is wedged into the upper left corner. “Me: oh really!” is squished up against the edge of a photo of a boy who is barely recognizable as Niall Horan in a cardigan—he has holes for eyes— sitting with his legs stretched out across a staircase, which has a red-and-white sticker on it reading “Do not sit on stairs.”
Whoever made this image may or may not have had any fidelity to the stereotype of a screaming fangirl. All I know about them is that they were infatuated with or intrigued by One Direction enough to make something funny and weird using an image that most people would have considered pretty uninspiring. The resulting meme makes fun of One Direction and it makes fun of the people who love them—it may read in other ways to other fans, but to me it looks like a sardonic wink or a playful jab at fans’ ridiculous fervor for defending something that doesn’t really need defending. (Nobody was going to change their minds about One Direction just because we insisted they were “bad boys” worth loving; One Direction was not at risk of being viewed as unpopular even if various people in each of our lives were unimpressed.) Though the criticism of fangirls is that they become tragically selfless and one-track-minded, the evidence available everywhere I look is that they become self-aware and creatively free. — Kaitlyn Tiffany
Published by MCD × FSG Originals. Copyright © 2022 by Kaitlyn Tiffany. All rights reserved.