The Dankest Memes of the 2010s
Memes fall in and out and sometimes back into fashion at a head-spinning pace. It feels wild to regard the stoned double rainbow guy (c. 2010) a meme of the same decade as whatever joke is trending on Twitter right now, and yet. Of the thousands of repeatable joke formats and viral videos that have passed by our screens, some have burned themselves further into our retinas than others. As we curated this nearly impossible list, we tried our best to consider the meme's ubiquity, longevity, impact, and legitimate funniness to determine what memes have truly stuck with us over the past 10 years, and which best represent this profoundly deranged decade we've endured.
"Is this a pigeon?" (2011)
Though most of us probably remember "is this a pigeon?" from its more recent second incarnation, this meme is older than most of us even realize, first taking root in the Tumblr-sphere and anime circles around 2011. Taken from the 1992 anime series The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, the screenshot appears in a scene where an android, disguised as a professor's assistant, runs into a police detective suspicious of his identity. To prove he is definitely not a robot, he starts misidentifying things around him -- hence, "is this a pigeon?" -- and ends the questioning by waving to the detective's robot car. Anime, which is cool now, is wild, which makes it a great source from which to mine memes, so it makes sense that our beloved confused robot man would make a reappearance around 2018. What makes this one more special than all the others is how broadly applicable it is; there's no limit to how weird or dumb this meme can get, and there's no Wikipedia page trawling required to reach the only context that would make it funny. Just a humanoid musing if a butterfly is a pigeon.
Potato Jesus (2012)
Everyone may be an artist, but be careful who you trust to do restorations. When a Spanish woman took it upon herself to restore a century-old fresco of Jesus that hung in her church, the result was less than ideal for the sake of art even though the end product was more than inspiring for other reasons. In the restored version Jesus has lost almost all of his identifying features. He's morphed into what looks like a vegetable or a cartoon character, his crown of thorns becoming a mop of fuzzy hair. He no longer looks realistic, but he has become a delightful example of Expressionist art. Later versions of the meme saw figures from the Mona Lisa to Homer Simpson deconstructed in similar fashion. After all, art is simply a matter of perspective.
10. American Chopper argument
Screencaps from a (probably staged) fight including table flipping on the reality TV show about men with handlebar mustaches making motorcycles was the perfectly insane way to make arguments for anything.
9. Tide Pods
Proud of Gen Z for pretending (mostly) to eat Tide Pods.
8. Starter packs
These highly specific yet makeshift mood board equivalents cut to the core with devastating accuracy.
7. "Bigger than before"
Make an egg bigger in three easy steps! First you put it in some vinegar then you let it sit in a glass of maple syrup then it goes into some water with blue dye, et voila!
6. Dat boi
The unicycle-riding redemptive frog of the decade. Here come dat boi.
5. "A potato flew around my room"
That one Vine mishearing the lyrics to the Frank Ocean song "Think' Bout You" while a potato literally spins around on a ceiling fan is *chef's kiss* so good.
4. "Johnny Johnny yes papa"
Eating sugar? No, papa. Telling lies! No, papa! Open your mouth! HA HA HA!!!
3. Bröther may i have some öats
Unnecessary umlauts and painted fat pigs: a winning combination!
2. Plums in the icebox
I have eaten them. Forgive me.
1. "They did surgery on a grape"
They did surgery on a grape!
"Retire bitch" (2013)
"Antonin Scalia retire bitch." Has there ever been a more perfect tweet? Actor Danny DeVito’s 2013 kissoff directed at the Supreme Court Justice required no punctuation to express his utter contempt for the right-wing judge. It was a fresh and fun new way to say go to hell, delete your account, shut up and go home. It works for just about any politician, billionaire, CEO, sexual harasser, or all of the above who does or says something dumb on social media. After Scalia’s death in 2016, "retire bitch" jokes became a bit more morbid, implying that death might be the ultimate form of retirement. It was in entirely poor taste and absolutely delightful.
"Back at it again at Krispy Kreme" Vine (2014)
Some say that the perfect Vine does not exist, will never exist, since the platform was bought up and spiked into the internet ether by Twitter in one of the most depressing squashings of vibrant, relatively non-problematic, and funny online communities in 2016. But I disagree. The best, most perfect Vine of all time is unequivocally "back at it again at Krispy Kreme," a three-second loop that remains exactly as funny to watch as the first time I saw it, from the introduction to the impeccable back handspring through the air, taking down the Krispy Kreme sign in the process. 10/10. Who was this man, and why was he back at it, and at Krispy Kreme of all places? Well: After some digging, New York Magazine found our guy. He's an Atlanta-based gymnastics and tumbling instructor named Aaron who decided to do a flip waiting in line for some doughnuts. (To read the saga in Aaron's own words is a joy unto its own.) Though it's been posted and taken down and reuploaded elsewhere numerous times, the many permutations of this video serve as a sort of stand-in representation of the vibes of the past decade: decentralized and absolute nonsense, set on repeat.
Spongebob memes (2015ish-present)
Far too many SpongeBob SquarePants memes have arisen in the past decade to simply pick one, so we made an umbrella category and called it a day. ("Deal with it" sunglasses.) It's widely accepted by now that the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon is actually pretty funny, even for adults and especially the millennials who grew up watching its earliest episodes, which debuted in 1999. Its silly and absurd sense of humor included plenty of meme-worthy reaction shots of its goofy cast -- see: mocking SpongeBob (above), handsome Squidward, Squidward with bloodshot eyes, etc. -- or cels ripe for sight gags -- see: Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket, etc. Sometimes the meme needn't be connected directly to the show beyond a character being cosplayed in the wild -- see: the dabbing Squidward Vine. All of which is to say, if we were to choose the seminal meme-inspiring cartoon of not just the decade, but this millennia, it would probably be SpongeBob SquarePants.
10. Matthew McConaughey: Lincoln car commercial
9. Leonardo DiCaprio: Gatsby cheers
7. Robert Redford: Nodding
6. Ryan Gosling: Feminist
6. Beyoncé: Buff
5. Kim Kardashian: "Gym" Kardashian, crying
4. Gordon Ramsay: "Idiot sandwich"
3. Steve Buscemi: "How do you do, fellow kids," eyes
2. Keanu Reeves: Sad, mini
1. Keke Palmer: "Sorry to this man"
Drake has technically been a meme for years, what with his run on Degrassi as basketball star Jimmy who gets shot by one of his classmates, which led to the not particularly sensitive nickname "wheelchair Jimmy." But the nature of Drake's celebrity has shifted drastically since Degrassi, becoming one of the biggest artists in the entire world. By virtue of that, his content has been been turned into internet fodder many times over -- If You're Reading This It's Too Latecover parodies, recontextualizing the tiny, sitting Drake on the cover of Views -- but maybe nothing has stuck more than what came of the iconic, James Turrell-inspired video for "Hotline Bling" (which currently has more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube). The weird dance of the rapper brushing his knees took off as a GIF, but the dual screenshots of Drake, that occupy approximately 2 seconds of video time, pantomiming a rejection and finger-pointing acceptance is what has endured through the years as it dissociates further from its source material, turning into an endless fount of memes.
"This is fine" (2016)
Perhaps no meme has better summed up living in the political climate of the latter half of the decade than this one. Taken from two panels of a webcomic by K.C. Green from 2013, the "this is fine" dog has become synonymous with turning a blind eye to all kinds of trouble. After the 2016 election we read articles about how we were supposed to be productive during a time when the news was wilder and more invasive than ever. We were told to keep going, to try to participate meaningfully in our local communities and to not pay attention to Twitter all of the time. In the face of impending doom of all kinds, particularly climate change, we were not supposed to panic. But what happens when you’re supposed to shrug it all off, and then your shoulders are so tense they get stuck at ear level and you’re sure you’re about to explode? When California is literally on fire? In better news, the plush version of Questioning Dog is non-flammable.
Distracted boyfriend (2017)
It’s a classic pose: a dude strolls along with one woman on his arm while he's blatantly checking out another. The neglected girlfriend is affronted by his wandering eye, as she should be. From this ostensible moment of a love triangle depicted in a series of stock photos from 2015 came a meme about priorities and whataboutism, a statement on where it’s appropriate to focus one's attention and what it's wrong to ignore. In various versions of the meme, the neglected girlfriend represents everything that we should be looking at while the other woman is every distraction we've ever encountered. In a surprise twist, at least in the world of the narrative of stock photos, subsequent pics depict the couple in a long-term relationship. They get engaged and have a kid together and buy a house, but distracted husband keeps on looking at other women, sometimes doing, um, way more than that.
10. "Damn, Daniel!"
Nearly funny 'til the end, but then Daniel and his friend went on Ellen.
Ie. "such bigness," "much taste." Sorry, but go to hell.
8. Ice Bucket Challenge
Do you even remember what you were dumping a bucket of ice water over your head for? (It was ALS.)
Perhaps the most irritating sound produced in this decade. Luckily, we only really had to tolerate it mostly during the 2010 World Cup.
Again, what was the point? Did you enjoy lying face down in the middle of the street for your pic?
5. "What does the fox say"
Remember? This song??????
4. Rage comics/Pepe the Frog
More recently co-opted by the alt-right, these are simply not funny and never were.
3. Saying "derp" or "ermahgerd"
Hopefully this is the last time either of these "words" are used in any context, like when your dog makes a funny face or the pizza arrives, ever again.
2. The Dress
If we have to relitigate whether it's blue or gold one more time, I will literally have an aneurysm. Same with "yanny" or "laurel."
The untimely death of the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla was the day the internet irreversibly broke itself.
Galaxy brain (2017)
Evaluating a brain's badness, brokenness, and intelligence online has become sport over the past handful of years. Though people have been offering galactically garbage takes since time immemorial, the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook and internet message boards amplified the especially bad ones to preposterous levels, giving rise to uniquely modern phenomena like "getting ratio'd" and this meme, the galaxy brain. First posted to reddit amid the time all of us were saying "whomst," expanding brain charts, and its many iterations, have become a reliable means to own the smarmy self-seriousness of said bad takes in the Discourse or champion thought patterns only the most deranged minds boiled in irony would conjure. It implies the top level of galaxy braining is only for the most elite thinkers with MENSA-level IQs capable of playing powerful games of 4-D chess, who can see into the fabric of the matrix, a la Bradley Cooper in Limitless, while the rest of us toil away as morons who don't know jack shit. Its widespread popularity speaks to the nature of the online exchange, where one person's dumbass misunderstanding of the world is another person's ironically distant meme fodder.
Dancing hot dog (2017)
Never forget Snapchat's pinch-to-zoom breakdancing hot dog filter, which was ubiquitous for what felt like a lifetime despite being available for only a summer. (It was available from June 23, 2017 until it was removed on July 6, and then brought back and then killed again in September, and again temporarily reappeared in December of that year.) While the ephemeral messaging platform has since abandoned the hot dog for other filters that use augmented reality and the ability to upload your own "lenses," the headphones-wearing meat tube was the company's first mega-viral sensation (but not its first AR venture), outside of cat- and dog-face filters or backlash for being problematic. The hot dog was an infestation of purity, a big, dumb, breakdancing distraction while getting your nose pierced, when your cat is sleeping, or going grocery shopping. It got so popular that overpriced costumes were made of it, Snapchat started selling plushies in-app along with other app-specific merch, and a bootleg dancing hot dog game found its way into the app store. Sadly, the dancing hot dog's presence in memedom has faded due to its lack of accessibility, but, per some galaxy braining done at Inverse a few years ago, we just might see our processed friend revived on Instagram at some point in December. There's just something in the way that it grooves to tunes with its arms outstretched and gently bouncing knees, its immovable face forever slightly smiling, its cool-as-hell headspin, that makes the dancing hot dog eternal and forever funny.
Editorial Assistant: Sadie Bell
Graphic Designer: Megan Chong