You Need To Let Meme Death Run Its Natural Course – Caleb Bethea
March 14, 2023
“Have you ever heard of Witch House?”
“No, I haven’t actually.”
“Oh, you’re missing out. Really big in the early 2010s. Combining Rave with Trap and Shoegaze—all with a dark little witchy aesthetic. They were chopping their bangs straight and shaving the sides of their heads before it was reminiscent of the 80s. I was really into Kaiju films at the time too. Was a nerd, obviously. So I would splice up Kaiju clips with Witch House drops playing behind it and post them to YouTube. It actually did okay, with subscribers and everything. The comments were wild, and actually had some great insights into the form.”
“That sounds familiar,” the listening one is polite.
“Kaiju? Yeah. It’s like those Japanese creature features, with the claymation monsters tearing a model city to pieces.”
“You know, I thought you were talking about actual witchcraft, at first.”
“Oh, I know a little about that too. Here, I’ll show you.”
The speaking one reaches across the table, grabs a napkin, pulls a pen from a shirt pocket, starts to scratch out a symbol behind the cover of his hand. Etching thick lines, but careful not to knife through the napkin to the table. This isn’t the first napkin diagram he’s drawn. A coworker walks by with someone’s toasted scone, looks over the diagrammer’s shoulder, then smiles with her upper lip at the listening one. They each nod kindly.
“Here, have you seen this?” he holds up the napkin.
“Yeah, we used to draw it in school all the time. Notebooks, desks, lunch tables, we drew it everywhere. The first and last time I was ever rebellious actually.”
“No, this one’s different from what you’re thinking of. Used in magic rituals. Magic with a K, that is.”
“I read on 4chan once that American GI’s actually learned the symbol from Vietnamese schoolchildren in the 60s. That’s just what I read anyways, but it’s the internet.”
“It actually has Eastern European roots, like a lot of this kind of stuff.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Yeah, yeah. They used it to summon entities. Spirits with a destructive streak.”
“The Vietnamese children?”
“No, the witches.”
“I should send you what I read then. Would love to hear your take on it.”
“Like you said. Can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
They both realize her mug is empty. And she’d finished her bagel and scone several turns of conversation back, when they were still on the topic of careers. With a quick sorry, just one second, she takes her mug to a bin on the far end of the front counter, drops it on a plate with avocado and bread crumbs smeared all over. The handle breaks off clean, sharp at both ends. She exhales, looks a while at the break. Then leaves the jagged points exposed to whatever brunch bits will inevitably fall into the bin, over and over. Her lunch will be over in five.
“What are you doing on 4chan anyways? That place is for conspiracy-horny Looney Tunes.”
The listening one is smiling now, sharp on both sides, “I like the memes.”
“You mean, alt-right propaganda?”
“But, that’s where all that shit gets its start.”
“No, it isn’t. That’s where it comes back from the dead. You know the one of Michael Jordan crying? Well, it fell off seven years ago. But last year, a 4chan user brought it back to joke about generational mob violence. Now it’s in mainstream circulation again. It’s called meme death. And it’s completely different from our own version of death.”
“Yeah, no shit.”
“Shut up, listen to me on this,” the listening one is speaking now. “The reason our death is not like theirs is that they always come back. All life is a circle, but theirs is an absolute möbius. A joke, with no punchline—endless. Undead. That’s why I was asking about your stupid music. Because I thought you were talking about magic with a K and that we might share an interest in life without death. But clearly you don’t. Clearly, you get off on death, destroying the natural loop of basic human interactions — going on and on in an unmoved line with your awful tirades. So if you’re going to survive, you need to let meme death run its natural course. Because even as I’m talking now, there’s a daisy growing roots through the face of a dead meme in the void. A meme that you and I created, and killed. But, now it’s coming back. And that is fucking magick.”