The Memeing of Life

by Melanie Jane Parker

The week after the world discovered my meme was the best week of my life.
They tell you nothing lasts forever, but plenty of things last longer than you want them to, and usually not in the way you envisioned. Toxic waste, puberty, my hamster. When I was five I stomped on a cockroach and hid it under my bed and it squirmed on its back for days until I stomped it again. My mom says she’ll love me forever. Last week in science class we learned that everything and everyone dies, so I know that most of what my mom says is what my dad calls wishful thinking. My mom does wishful thinking about losing ten pounds and my grades and getting back together with my dad. She says that if I pass math and social studies, she’ll quit smoking. What she doesn’t know is that I need her to keep it up—I’ve been selling loosies to kids at school for almost a year. $2 each, ten kids a day, five days a week. That’s what it takes to get a new pair of nice kicks on Canal.

The verb post is defined as a display or notice in a public place. I guess the internet is the most public place there is now, and there’s a lot of displaying. My mom documented her whole pregnancy—you can still find it if you dig down deep enough in the sad sinkhole that is her online life—and her labor and my birth, and then my infancy, and then my childhood. This, I’m sure, will go on and on. She’s still always shoving her Proto in my face or involving me in one of her weird selfies. I don’t really care now—I only live a third of my life offline, anyway—but I used to, especially when one of her posts in particular blew up, one that happened to be of me, breastfeeding.

Back when social media was more tribal, you had your different apps and feeds—PicPit, FriendWorld, Zoid, SurreaLife—and you used them for different things, like posting photos (PicPit, duh), making friends (you guessed it), scoring human value points for everything you buy (Zoid), and creating a parallel existence so you feel better about your lame reality (SurreaLife). These are the ones my mom used, anyway. We have more now, and they’re all kind of streamed together, so I spend most of my day uploading what I see or think or any questions I have, like when are we going to change child labor laws so I can start day trading? My mom first posted the breastfeeding image on PicPit, but it toured all the major social media sites and even ended up on some very high-end news blogs like Gossipist and The On Fleek Times.

Remember it now? No, probably not. We made pieces of technology that are faster than human brains and now the world is always owing through me and nothing ever sticks. I love it. I’m bathing in images and little blips of sound and light all the time and it’s fucking awesome. Who needs to remember anything? History is pointless. I’ve taken social studies every year since I was seven and really nothing has caught my interest. Except maybe the New Deal. But don’t think I haven’t caught on to the irony—am I using irony correctly?—of the past becoming irrelevant even with every moment transformed into an event. I’d talk about that more but it’s too complicated, and complicated usually ends up being boring.

Let me describe it to you. It’s a picture of baby me, sucking on my mom’s tit. I’m white and my eyes are brownish-blue and I have a little peach fuzz on my head. You can see part of my mom’s nipple, and some of her face— nose, chin, the left side of her mouth (smiling), her left eye (mostly her eyelid, she’s looking down at me), and her hair falling over her forehead. But it’s mostly about me, because, as I said, I’m sucking on my mom’s tit, and I’m looking at the camera. I have this stupid look on my face like I’m happy. There must be millions of pictures like this on the internet, who knows why somebody picked mine. But one day years later I’m scrolling through FunTimes on my Vital and I see my baby face looking back at me, and right under my dumb ecstatic expression in huge block letters are the words I LIKE IT. And I’m like, whoa. I’m famous. Cool. And then I’m like, wait, how do I feel about this? Is this fucked up? I searched a bunch of different key word combos—“baby on nipple,” “baby likes boob,” “weird baby breastfeeding”—and every search brought up this one picture of me, but with tons of captions. MORE, MORE, MORE. GTFO. MY EVIL EMPIRE WILL RISE. YOU MAD, BRO? DIS BITCH. You get the idea.

My mom says people used to care about boobs on the internet. She said she used to have her accounts reported and blocked for posting pictures of herself naked, with or without a baby. I try to imagine this and I just can’t. It’s like trying to imagine what things were like before someone invented text messaging, or fire. It’s a world I don’t want to know or be a part of. What I love about the internet is that I’m twelve years old and I’ve seen everything there is to see. I’ve seen people having sex, people being born, people being murdered. It’s the best education kids have ever gotten. It’s like, hey, assholes, this is the world. Sorry not sorry.

Maybe I’ve been misleading you this whole time. My English elective teacher is always telling me I’m dishonest when I write. What’s the point of writing, I ask her, if you don’t get to lie? But I haven’t lied to you. Remember that moment where I almost didn’t know how to feel about the post? Well, it didn’t bother me then, but it bothers me now. And it isn’t the nature of the post that bothers me. It isn’t the fact that anyone who looks will find a picture of me gladly milking my mom that bothers me. It’s that nobody’s looking.

Everyone who ever goes on the internet enters into a truly sacred agreement to never complain or dispute the way their words or images are used. It isn’t law, not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. My mom said she wasn’t concerned about “being exploited”—esoteric!—but she was worried about me being embarrassed or made fun of for the way my picture was being “manipulated.” But there’s one of those funny little generational things. What would have been embarrassing ten years ago to people my mom’s age is just a joyride to people now. You can’t hurt anybody, and nobody can hurt you. Everything feels good almost all the time.

The week after the world discovered my meme was the best week of my life. Kids at school made fun of me, sure, but their insults were soft, impotent. Mama’s boy! They laughed, but with a hint of admiration—jealousy, even. The meme is still out there—unlike in nature, nothing on the internet ever dies—but what’s disturbing is that nobody knows it’s me. What’s disturbing is that I might never be memed again, that my days as something people know about have come and gone. That nobody will ever say to a friend, You haven’t seen this? You have to see this, and that the “this” will be me. I’m not saying I should be remembered. That would be asking too much. All I’m saying is that knowing I was popping up on screens everywhere gave me this feeling, like I existed in four dimensions, beyond time and space. It wasn’t just a good feeling. Nah, it was something other than good. The only thing I can compare it to is that feeling you have when you’re a kid and your parents take you to the park and chase you down a big hill and you feel like you’re flying, like your feet aren’t even hitting the ground. You’re moving so fast, going going going, it’s a feeling that fills your whole body, and where does that feeling come from, and who can give it to me, and what if I never feel it again?

See Part I here.

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