There is a very precise sweet spot for me when it comes to memes: the best ones are those that seem hyperspecific but actually reveal a universally shared truth or an aspect of your being you thought was unique to you but actually places you in communion with a much larger group. This week, that much larger group is composed of the thousands if not millions of people who have thought at some point: “Maybe I should check out Shen Yun.”
Shen Yun is a performing arts group formed to proselytize the Falun Gong religion (which some have characterized as a cult and which has a combative relationship with China’s communist government). The group promises a showcase of “5,000 Years of Civilization Reborn” and the most important thing to know about Shen Yun is that its advertising is ubiquitous. In New York City, for example, you’ll find Shen Yun ads everywhere, on billboards and on the subway. You might see them on highways and interstates, too. There’s always a Shen Yun show coming up, usually advertised with a leaping dancer.
Hence, the memes. The most prominent one I’ve found is a repost of this joke credited to @haha_lets_chill, but there are others.
At first blush, the Shen Yun ads feel like a well-known regional joke, like the flyer that promises, “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar,” or Dr. Zizmor. It is particularly popular on the r/nyc subreddit. But the ubiquity of Shen Yun — a show I’m still not convinced anyone has ever actually seen (if you told me you’d seen it, I would absolutely think you were trying to pull some sort of prank) is apparently universal. You cannot escape Shen Yun, you can only hope to live with it.
In this polarized climate — in which people from all walks of life are struggling to find common ground with each other, and the internet threatens to divide us instead of uniting us — it is helpful to know that we are all the same. We all walk this earth knowing that Shen Yun is out there, but not really knowing what it is. For years, we have hidden, fearful of the scorn we might receive for boldly asking questions such as, “What if we saw Shen Yun, like, as a joke?” Until that time, at least you can now take solace in the simple fact that you are not alone.