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Why That American Chopper Meme Is So Hard to Read

Photo: American Chopper

If you’ve been online this week, then you might have, at some point, come across a meme featuring two men yelling at each other before one of them throws a chair. So it goes. The meme comes from a scene of the show American Chopper, and the idea behind it is that it’s funny to watch two dudes — Paul Teutul Sr. and his son, Junior — get really heated about very specific stuff. Like Anakin Skywalker, for instance.

Could you read all of that easily on your smartphone? There’s a pretty good chance that you couldn’t. You had to click and pinch and zoom, in order to get the thrust of the joke. What sets the American Chopper meme apart — particularly in 2018 — is its physical structure. There’s no other way to put this: This is a tall meme.

In fact, one of the most popular recent iterations of it, addressed just that.

Senior: This meme is too tall and not suited for twitter

Junior: Here just click to read the whole thing

Senior: It zooms out too much and makes it difficult to read

Junior: [picture of “Open image in new tab” dialogue menu option]

Senior: That’s too much work to do for one meme!

Senior is not wrong! This meme is not optimized for the small screens of smartphones. It is very tall, and very dependent on lots of dialogue in a small font size. The reason for this is simple: the American Chopper meme is not a new meme. It is, in fact, a really old meme. The show went off the air in 2010, and the clip the meme comes from aired in a 2009 episode.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what started the meme, but its most popular early iteration played on reader expectations by having Junior courteously offer to move a chair for his dad. Here’s an Imgur upload from 2012, but a quick Google reverse-image search shows this macro scattered around the web on defunct blogs and “pic dumps.”

The American Chopper meme is simply not designed for mobile phones. It hearkens back to a time not so long ago when memes were sloppy, unwieldy, and arguably more complex — and primarily viewed on a desktop monitor. The best version of it is intricate and referential, and most importantly, presents two compelling sides to an argument (or at least, two widely held stances). There are plenty of comparative memes with one right choice and one wrong choice; this one is something different, often operating in the gray.

On both a technical level and on a conceptual one, the American Chopper meme asks more of the viewer than the brief flicker of recognition that most social-network-optimized memes request. You have to spend more time getting it into a legible state, and then follow through five panels of argument. The barrier to entry is high(er), but the payoff is worth it.

Why That American Chopper Meme Is So Hard to Read