Why Disney+'s 'The Beatles: Get Back' Is a Joyful Meme Machine
The loose structure of Peter Jackson's epic music documentary lends itself to online playfulness.
Peter Jackson's epic rock documentary The Beatles: Get Back, which dropped on Disney+ the week of Thanksgiving, is a collection of small, intimate moments of collaboration. Despite the status of the band and the pressure they were under at the time of the recording, the movie has a playful, mischievous quality that's reflected in the ways the members interact with each other. Fundamentally, it's a movie about riffing: musically, comedically, professionally, romantically, and socially. And memes, broadly defined as jokes you make on the internet for the amusement of others, are basically a form of riffing, too.
So, it makes sense that Get Back, which runs 468 minutes across three parts, would serve as fertile ground for some really, really good memes to grow. John, Paul, George, and Ringo had their issues and disagreements, which Jackson and his team chronicle in exacting detail and at the great length you'd expect from the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit prequels. The lads, reeling from the loss of their manager Brian Epstein and struggling with their own individual musical ambitions, argued and fought and exchanged icy stares across the recording studio as they made Let It Be. But they also sang in silly voices and teased each other in the way friends often do. They goofed around.
Many of the best jokes about Get Back don't require that you've seen it and they really only demand a cursory understanding of The Beatles. Here's one that caught my attention before I even streamed the series.
Here's another one that works with almost no context.
Sometimes, all you need to do is mash up The Beatles with another figure from '60s British culture.
Or chose an American icon who shares a name with a certain moody Beatle.
Or combine an image from the show with a different classic song.
Not to take anything away from what Jackson and the project's editors were able to achieve, but there's a "film-as-data-dump" formal aspect to Get Back that makes it especially appealing to anyone looking to make memes from it. The story is told with a great deal of craft, particularly in scenes like the conversation between John and Paul around the hidden flower-pot microphone in Part Two. The sprawling quality encourages the viewer to look for small bits of ephemera to twist and make your own. After all, that's what the members themselves are mostly doing throughout the movie: listening and reacting to one another.
To be clear, I'm not saying making a meme is an artistic accomplishment at the level of writing "Let It Be" or "Don't Let Me Down." Obviously, it's not. But the loose, joyful tone of Get Back is genuinely inspiring in the way it makes you look at the world. It might even make you pick up a guitar, open that journal, or grab a paintbrush. Or, it might inspire you to post, a noble way to spread your silliest ideas across the universe.