My Plans vs 2020 Meme: Collective Grieving

an exploration on lockdown grief memes

First of all, let me say “phew!” It’s not a shock to anyone why the “My Plans vs 2020 Meme” format has become so popular, after all, 2020 fucked up all and any possible plans that pretty much every single person on this planet had about the year. It certainly did mine, which I’ve already found myself normalizing around whatever this ongoing grief panic we are all in is. My plans adapting and changing as the world crumbles, careful as always to not grow attached to daydreams. The meme is rather simple, two images and ultimately the same gist of words every time.

My Plans 2020

(ideal / light situation) (devastation)

(popular tv character in beginning) (their fatal end)

You get the gist!

I loved this one featuring Adriana from the Sopranos so much, it was an incredible use of the format and probably the first one I saw that really made me think “okay so this is going to be a thing”, you have this picture-perfect photo of Adriana and Christopher to represent “my plans” and then the photo of Adriana right before she meets her final end (because she snitched to the feds). PHEW! I was like ah my heart, but that’s honestly why this is probably my favorite version of this format because that’s how 2020 felt. We have found ourselves in this highly volatile world with so much death and no foreseeable future that could be clear enough to plan, well anything. I think this is why this meme format really touches on the moment we are in so brilliantly because even the idea of plans feels absurd, it is almost comical to think of when one could see something even going differently. In some ways, this is the grimmest lockdown meme yet.

Some of the versions are lighter, such as this one which also gives a shoutout to everyone’s favorite mommy pop star - who we also have watched grow up since she was a child and there’s nothing weird about that - Britney Spears! I love the vibe of this one because like compared to ‘07 Brit, the first pic is the ultimate glow up and we just yeah love her, while the plans being just a Yankee Candle made me lol. Instead of focusing on the grim and, if we are being real, devastating options for 2020 the poster just embraced the “comfy” and albeit privileged lockdown vibe. Obviously not everyone was that sweet about the format….

This one actually probably was the most controversial of the versions going around, as people quickly quote RTed things along the line of “we don’t joke about this.” Which in some ways, no one should joke about any death but obviously people do and will. It also just kind of feels ironic because obviously the inherent humor in the format is that it is a format of grief. The My Plans vs 2020 is ultimately a grief meme, attempting to hold onto what was before while straddling the reality of what comes ahead (which is at the same time unknowable). It’s absurd, ridiculous, and ultimately incredibly emotional. I suppose that ultimately the reason it was controversial is because of the obvious focus on the death of the much-beloved (may he rest in peace) Steve Irwin. As with all death, it is easier to understand the full extent of grief when you can put a face on it, which is why meme jokes about 9/11 (at this point in time, given obviously that we aren’t living in the immediate aftermath, even though in some ways we will always politically live in the aftermath of 9/11) are actually still funny to many people because with time and the anonymity of mass death people feel comfortable with for example the one below.

Since if we are speaking of this meme as a meme format about death than we must also recognize irrelevant of what pictures are included we are discussing the pandemic. Whether it be a meme that is directly referencing 9/11, the Sopranos, or Steve Irwin, we are confessing collective grief that we are all experiencing. Lockdown memes have been fascinating to watch because they serve the purpose of an emotional and psychological soothing for a whole population of people online who must grapple with only witnessing our world through the news, which grows sadder and more brutal every day. Even the “My Plans” in the meme format implies grief over the loss of autonomy, the ability to plan, the ability to look forward to something that we can control, and hold as our own. For many people, we have lost even that. We may be blaming 2020, as we often do when dealing with years (even though every year since 2015 has brutally been left behind as “well nothing could be worse than that” only to be reminded that, oh yes it can), but it’s okay to admit we are angry that a pandemic and poor government response has stolen our lives from us, even if for a brief moment (or possibly forever for many people who are also failed by our governments).

I’m going to end on another favorite which is lighter and funny, referencing though even nostalgically the fantastic movie Legally Blonde. Elle Woods proving to the courtroom that her client was being falsely accused of murder, using her knowledge of perms no less. Truly an iconic moment for the ages, and for all high femmes out there. Only in the Bush-era could someone such as Warner be considered hot, though, just want to put that out there.

My Plans vs 2020 speaks to this moment perfectly, as we all wonder what the summer and fall will bring. It does also make one wonder how to ground in this time, where to plant seeds, and grow roots. How pandemics laugh at our silly plans and we make memes about it.