Valentine’s Day was in February this year, but you wouldn’t know that if you looked on social media, because everyone’s still talking about kissing. All day, nonstop, it’s a smoochfest. Everyone wants to talk about locking lips, warping internet-based crush culture and turning it on its head.
“What would u do … if we kissed on the Battle Bus?” one image macro asks, referencing the popular game Fortnite. “What if we kissed in the Blair Witch House?” asks another. They grow increasingly specific. “What if we kissed in the Waco compound?” another wonders. “What if we kissed at the neighborhood high voltage box?” yet another image queries. Oftentimes, the images use the classic Impact font often seen on old-school memes, and are adorned with blushing emoji and the emoji of a monkey gleefully covering its eyes, seemingly out of adorable embarrassment.
Exactly where these memes come from is not entirely clear to me, but there are two clear spiritual precursors blurring the lines between ironic and sincere. The first is this macro which asks the recipient, “What would you do if we accidentally kissed?” I have been unable to find its origin, but the picture goes back further than mid-2016, where I found it in a post on the 2 million-member-strong Amino community dedicated to anime. (Sample comment: “I would keep kissing you until that it would stop being awkward and then I would stop, unless you wanted me to continue.”) By the time it showed up there in June of 2016, the macro had already had become heavily compressed and had an ifunny.co banner Frankenstein’d onto it.
The macro next appeared on Reddit, in a number of different forums, in late 2017. By then it had been incorporated into a cringey text message thread. A number of subreddits devoted to embarrassing behavior, such as r/justneckbeardthings (“neckbeard” is a pejorative for a certain type of geeky, anime-liking, fedora-wearing man) and r/excargated (devoted to embarrassing typos), picked up the screenshot. Below the original anime picture, a paramour has written four texts:
What would you do
What wof you do if we acidebtal kiss…
What would you do if this happened
What would you do if we did this
(One note: The text-message screenshots show them coming from a contact with heart and peach emoji after his name, implying that the contact is a significant other. So even if the thread is quote-unquote “cringe,” it was likely intended to be, and not an earnest flirt attempt.)
Save for one use in 2014, the term “acidebtal” began appearing with some frequency on Twitter around the same time it spread across Reddit, and has since become popular within K-pop Twitter. On the r/sadcringe subreddit (for cringey things that just make you sad, duh), a post that reads only “What wof you do” currently has about 4,700 upvotes.
This image is not necessarily directly responsible for the current rash of kissing shitposts (such as “What if we kissed in the Chuck E. Cheese racecar?”). Still, it is spiritually linked, part of the same super-genre of posts in which the hivemind inadvertently collaborates on romantic maneuvers through meme propagation. A cringey joke disseminated far and wide can then becomes its own type of in-group flirt. The internet enables awkward flirting via image macro and its users role-play and imagine fanciful hypotheticals. The macros are of a kind with the fandom corners of the internet that write #imagine fanfic about their teen idols.
Though the imaginative part of these memes are inspired by earnest pining taking place across the internet, its visuals draws from meme genres that feature heavy emoji use, text chains that use emoji as punctuation and aesthetics like “Real N**** Hours,” in order to telegraph the intended tone of the meme. Read in a vacuum, the concept is somewhat bewildering. When given universal signifiers — like Impact font and blushing emoji — one instantly recognizes their intended accessibility. “Haven’t we all thought about this at one point or another?” they seem to ask casually, even though they’re set in specific horror houses and virtual worlds.
The goal then becomes to find a scenario so precise, and to present it so precociously, that it makes the reader feel a sense of both ease and unease —like something is slightly off, but nobody is willing to acknowledge it. And like all memes, it becomes a never-ending game of one-upmanship, a contest to think of the most specific and uncomfortable location, and present it in the most casual manner.
It’s a meme about presupposing that the specific is universal. In a way, save for the central location named in each one, everything about these image macros is generic: the social media–optimized “we all know this feeling” tone, the font choices and emoji stickers. It’s tempting to call them parody, but if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that everyone has weird interests. Maybe there are people who do really want to share a romantic kiss in the Blair Witch House.