oh my fucking god
Everyone go home. The internet is over.
Okay, you know what? I just reblogged this but I wanna get geeky over it. ‘Cause this is some high-class humor right here, and if you don’t get that you need to be educated so here I am about to do the thing you’re not supposed to do and explain the joke, because I’m just really impressed by this joke’s construction, okay?
So back in Paris in the 1920s, the surrealist movement in art was just starting to take off. The surrealist movement was born from the dadaist movement, which was a response to strict societal ideas of what was “art” and what wasn’t. The dadaists made a lot of works to try and challenge society’s ideas of what art even was in the first place, and this continued on into the more sophisticated abstract works of surrealism.
One such artist, Rene Magritte (also known for his paintings of people with invisible heads, or with fruit for heads), painted a work called “The Treachery of Images,” depicting a pipe, and underneath the words (in french) “This is Not a Pipe.” The words were meant to refer to the fact that the painted pipe was literally not a real physical pipe that a viewer could smoke out of, it was just a painting of a pipe.
The painting was extremely meta, and really challenged the habit of allowing oneself to get so immersed in a work of art that one forgets it is a created representation of life, and not actual life. Understanding that alone takes a good deal of abstract thinking ability. And really appreciating and enjoying it requires a certain amount of one’s own frustration with society’s habit of trying to put limits on the definition of art; and being unable to think outside the box and really see something from all possible perspectives, including the perspective of being completely outside the thing.
Now what’s even more fascinating to me is that modern art movements (and I don’t mean “modern art,” I mean actual contemporary art movements that are being led by our peers) are kinda doing the same thing the dadaist movement was doing, but in reaction to the art that came out of the dadaist movement. Things have circled back around again, and abstract surrealist art is now what society has decided “art” is. And our generation doesn’t accept that. Comics, video games, TV shows and movies, graffiti art, web series, even flash mobs, all of these are our generation’s way of saying, “no, society, you don’t get to define art as strictly as ‘if it doesn’t make sense to me it must be brilliant.’ Art can be simple to understand, art can be accessible to all people, art can make you beg to find out what happens next!” And that’s really interesting to me.
Flash forwards to 2006, when rapper Gucci Mane writes a song called “Pillz” in which the phrase “ ***** I might be” was coined and used several times. In the song, it’s used as a sarcastic, somewhat indignant but not wholly angry way to say “it’s none of your business,” in response to a beautiful woman in a club accusing the rapper of being high. The phrase became a meme in 2013, following Gucci Mane’s indictment for assaulting a soldier, when a redditor photoshopped a screencap of news coverage of the trial to reference the song. The photoshopped image changed the previous on-screen text to read “Rapper Gucci Mane responds with ‘ ***** I might be’ when asked if guilty”. Again, the usage of the phrase is a sarcastic and indignant “none of your business.” The phrase then quickly gained popularity and was added to numerous other photoshopped images.
Now, memes are really cool as a concept anyways, when you think about them hard enough (I mean, the speed at which an entire world full of young people are able to latch onto something as simple as a phrase that they all mutually find funny, and within a matter of days explore every possible usage and implication of that phrase, including how it might relate to other complex systems of knowledge and understanding such as the rich character and plot developments of stories that generate fandoms), but lets put that aside for now and talk about sarcasm, instead.
Because sarcasm is a very sophisticated, complex, and subtle form of wit. It’s a difficult thing to be able to understand, through tone of voice alone, that what someone says, and what they mean, are two different things. And to be able to discern the actual meaning when the words were not said. As wikipedia says, “different parts of the brain must work together to understand sarcasm.” It’s even harder when those words are typed and not spoken audibly, as the reader must imagine the tone in the first place. That’s a lot of brain work involved in even understanding the true meaning behind that simple little phrase.
And sarcasm is popular right now. More than popular, it’s a hallmark of our generation. People have been writing lengthy articles and psychological, sociological, and anthropological studies and musings on why we’re so sarcastic. As this article suggests, it’s because we’re so angry. We’re a generation that was promised a lot and the world didn’t deliver. We’re disenchanted, and jaded, and mad. And we vent that through sarcastic humor. We laugh at things older generations don’t think are funny. We have come to expect so much disappointment, that we no longer afford “serious” things the respect we’re told they deserve. Because we no longer believe they deserve it. As the article states, “We are a generation that believes nothing is sacred. And if nothing is sacred everything becomes profane.”
One could even go so far as to make the argument that the popularity of the statement on the above image is due partially to the attitude amongst today’s youth (especially on tumblr) that one’s own life and choices are one’s own, and not the business of anybody else. This attitude can be seen in everything as simple as the “be yourself” and “follow your dreams” statements many of us were raised on, to the more serious issues we deal with today of discrimination against the LGBTGA+ community, fat shaming, slut shaming, prejudice against muslim people, etc., to political issues like free speech and government invasion of privacy, and even into more subtle ideas present in social media of privacy settings, controlling who gets to see what posts, block and ignore features, and even the philosophy of “nobody can tell you what to post in your own space. If somebody doesn’t like it, they can unfollow.”
None of this would be happening consciously, of course, but we can’t help but be influenced by the world around us. And a phrase whose meaning is essentially “it’s none of your business” is very likely to resonate strongly with a group of people whose fundamental philosophies of polite interpersonal conduct revolve roughly around the same concept.
Taking all this into consideration, this joke is taking a lot of pre-knowledge and putting it all together to kind of say, in a funny way, “stop acting like you have it all figured out, because you don’t. And some things are just not for you to figure out anyway.”
So to sum up, to understand the above image, you must:
- have a descent grasp on art history to recognize the original painting.
- have good abstract and/or creative thinking skills to understand and appreciate the original painting.
- have a good grasp on modern pop culture, internet culture, and current slang and memes (basically, be an active participant in the wider world).
- have the complex emotional and interpersonal understanding necessary to understand the subtleties of sarcasm.
- understand enough of what’s going on in the world around you that you are disenchanted enough to appreciate sarcastic humor.
- participate in our generation’s general philosophy of life and how to interact with other human beings in the world at large.
So basically, if you laughed, you’re smart. :3