For me, 2018 was largely characterized by a meme malaise. It seemed like there were fewer of them, and the ones we did see felt less genuine and more performative. Like everything else now — especially everything on the internet — making memes is an activity done for the purpose of accruing economic and social capital, not for leisure. Which makes it hard to find a meme worthy of being called the Meme of the Year.
It would be very easy to write a post that’s like, “2018 was the Hell Year, and the top meme was Dying Quickly. Unfortunately, I’m all out of Tide Pods and besides, I still haven’t gotten a Victory Royale!!! Also, 2019 is gonna be even worse!” But I’d rather not write that post.
So here I am, on the hunt for a meme that fits my criteria. For one thing, it has to be a true meme — a trend that transcended whatever particular community birthed it to break out into the wider internet. And it has to hit a sort of sweet spot between “widely accessible and participatory” and “distinct enough to have something resembling a message or purpose.”
That’s why the best meme of 2018 is T-posing.
Visually, the T-pose is when someone stands straight up, legs together, arms fully extended like Christ on the cross, or a rock star basking in adulation. In 3-D animation, this the default posture for character models when no positioning or movement is specified. If a video game glitches, for instance, characters might snap into a T-pose. An infamous glitch in a canceled NBA game shows a player standing stone-still at half-court in a T-pose.
A T-pose, encountered unexpectedly, is bewildering. The poser does not look grotesque or scary, but they look … off. To use an old chestnut, it’s a glitch in the matrix. Earlier this year, the T-pose broke out of gaming subculture to become a sort of power stance for Gen Z. Where once the T-pose was a sign of someone made powerless and inert, it now is a source of strength.
T-posting is easy to do, and the sight of multiple people T-posing is straight-up menacing, which makes for a good prank, and it’s so easy to do that anyone can participate. It’s a bit like the dab, a pose trend that became unfunny after it was run into the ground — and then was run so far into the ground that it reemerged at the other side of the earth, funny again. (The dab is good now! Sorry!) That’s key for a good meme. Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and pretty much any platform frequented by young people contains tales of adolescents T-posing.
Much of the anxiety around technology this year has been about the way that seemingly offline concerns about government policy and social issues can be directed through information campaigns and online platforms. The president is going wild on Twitter, foreign governments are trying to sway your vote on Facebook, the most popular YouTuber might be red-pilling your child. Consuming internet culture doesn’t feel so fun anymore when the innocent memes we love so much might have been posted by a catfishing Russian troll in the service of authoritarianism.
Re-creating memes IRL is often thought of as cringeworthy, but we are well past the point where memes can only remain in the online domain. The T-pose puts a nice twist on this by taking something that used to be exclusively and inherently digital, and bringing it into offline physical space. It’s starting to feel like every time what happens online collides with what happens offline, it will destabilize modern society — but this is not the case with T-posing. (Around the time the T-pose wave crested in the spring, online hoaxers tried to convince people that the T-pose was a white-supremacist symbol — in an effort similar to the one that convinced many people that the “okay” hand sign was racist.)
In practice, T-posing is empowering, and collaborative — it’s something you can do with minimal effort that makes you feel good without making others feel bad. Maybe they feel a little confused or uneasy, but not bad. You’re T-posing with friends, relatives, classmates, whoever. Unlike online, you know who you’re joking with — and since everyone has a camera now, you can turn that into a viral post anyway.
T-posing takes a screwup and turns it into a form of confidence. It has its roots in a software bug and is thus automatically self-deprecating, and if I were to speculate, maybe points to an elevated technical literacy among the youth. It points to a merging of the online and the offline in a way that isn’t terrifying (a way that is terrifying, by way of contrast: the president getting his talking points from Reddit). It is accessible to pretty much everyone, it can be done collaboratively, and — I can’t stress this enough — it’s very amusing. In other words, it’s a meme for our times, but one that makes you feel good, and slightly strange, and curious for answers, rather than a meme that makes you want to shove your head in the sand.