Early Internet Nostalgia

or my personal meme relationship history for context

I’m going to be real, I’m not unbiased. I have memes I prefer more than others, styles, and eras that are close to my heart. I followed meme culture long before I made memes. I remember being force-fed the Cereal Guy memes at my lunch table in middle school, in the early era of memes just having an image with any somewhat relatable thought was considered hilarious.

It was easy. Memes have evolved from the Forever Alone Guy and well, the whole crew (which luckily know your meme had this cute little grid of related memes to Cereal Guy which really does make it feel like a forgotten little family)

I want to acknowledge that even though it almost feels like these memes are long dead (if anyone online still actively uses these memes, please reach out to me because I’d love to talk to you), that they played a really fundamental role in my early understanding of Internet culture, and my early experiences. I remember being on Tumblr while hanging out with these boys who spent all their time on Reddit and 4Chan, which basically led to us all sharing these weird memes back and forth (even IRL, in-real-life) until we got really into Pepe the Frog memes (this was a pre-nazi association of Pepe, which I plan on exploring and mourning the early Pepe meme at a later date but lol pour one out for non-racist Pepe). It kind of kept going like that and then my understanding of memes stepped outside of specific memes and cartoon characters but more viral movements and emotions.

I blame Tumblr for that because there was a period of time where responding What is Air? to a post was the funniest thing once could do, similarly, it impacted the way that I communicated and joked with my friends. This was before Vine (RIP) and TikTok (ew sorry I’m not a fan even if I recognize that it is the viral video platform, that also obviously shadowbans those they consider ugly and poor lol… so much for a democratic Internet right?), so most of the things that were shared were more image or text-based memes. In some ways, I like going through my old Tumblr almost like a photo diary of what I found funny, what I cared about, and what was happening. I love to blog.

It wasn’t until I got older and was extremely online did I witness the birth of what later became some of the biggest Original Content Facebook pages (that later moved onto Instagram, pre-Facebook bought them out). That was the era of my life I have come to refer to as my “weird Facebook” days - when I was on weird nude-sharing Facebook groups that only tended to last a few days (one only lasted twenty-four hours) and befriended anyone I found slightly interesting online. I remember being on a Facebook comment thread that led to Cabbage Cat (still operating but way bigger operation than it used to be) and Lettuce Dog (now operating as @gayvapeshark on Insta) being made. It’s all an inside joke online, everything is! I feel somewhat nostalgic for those early days because the Internet felt like such a community then, instead of a necessity as it is now (a time where we are more dependent on the Internet and tech platforms for human access more than ever).

Memes changed very rapidly with Instagram, with some “meme pages” existing as a place of “reposts” of memes. This isn’t wholeheartedly bad, as long as people give credit for memes that are OC (original content, baby), but there are many strange RP meme accounts that have come out of Instagram with a lot of access to wealth and influence. Especially because these accounts tend to be rather depersonalized, unlike with many accounts that are run by individuals making memes unique to their experiences with followings from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands where their followers tend to connect to them on a personal level.

Anyway, the point being made is I always had a fascination with memes. I started my meme page @atmfiend while I was working at a dungeon in Koreatown. I used to joke with my friend about memes about domming, about submissives, and the weird unique situations we would be in regularly. My early memes dealt a lot with sex work (they sometimes still do, but I’ve also grown to make memes about different things). Eventually, the majority of memes changed into emotional healing memes but sometimes I do stuff like this below, where I use kink imagery to express a very specific trauma or healing thought.

To be honest, making @atmfiend was the beginning of letting go of so much shame. I would post a meme that detailed things I had never told anyone before, facts about myself that truly had ruled my life and my head for so long, and thousands of people would react letting me know I wasn’t alone. We all feel so isolated in our experiences but we aren’t actually at all. Memes to me speak to the levels of community expression we need for human experience. Some kind of grasp that we aren’t as alone as it seems.

The Internet isn’t what it once was though, even though I do feel some incredible memes and content are being created, many are being posted on platforms that are happy to censor ideas, specific people, bodies, images they find gruesome! Algorithmically torn apart! People shadowbanned, kicked off whole platforms, or self-censoring for fear of losing access to communities. Of course, we know sex workers are consistently pushed offline, but so are people of color, queer folk, political organizers, artists, kinksters, and so many more. It’s wild because even though the content has never been better it feels like (the quality is so top tier, we live in a golden age of memes), we live in a time of the Internet that is hostile to anyone who doesn’t fit into the ideal role of the State and of Tech.

Anyway….. I love memes and I love the Internet and I’m nostalgic for a time when the Internet felt hopeful.