March 4, 2024

Mulch and the Enduring Appeal of Internet Absurdity

Image credits: Austin Wilcox / Unsplash (modified by TechCrunch) (Image has been modified)

Mulch posts chase me.

The most recent video on mulch came to me in the middle of the night, when I had been going through a particularly unpleasant bout of insomnia for hours. The video was an edit of a small dog surrounded by a frame of glowing hearts, with an AI-generated voice narrating: “Today, I reached the ground at full potential. I am full of loam, asbestos and red 40”.

Posts about mulch have periodically appeared on my restless nights for months. In the hours when I know I should be sleeping, I am plagued by the content of small dogs proclaiming that they are full of dirt, or that they are making mulch, or who delight in eating mulch with their loam sisters. The mulchgang prays for a bountiful harvest. Mulch posts celebrate a body nourished with microplastics and synthetic food dyes. Silty clay soil feeds us all.

Before the inevitable moral panic hits, once the trend gains enough widespread attention: Posts about mulch do not encourage children to ingest soil. Mulch memes are just that: silly posts that, like the absurdist, post-ironic internet humor that’s been popular for years, aren’t all that profound. The seriousness of the trend provides a brief respite from the fatalistic cynicism that tends to drive meme culture.

The meme came from, of all places, Instagram Reels. The spread of mulch posts on TikTok shows that Instagram still has influence in driving internet culture, despite Reels’ rocky start. It is one of the first original Reels content to go viral beyond Instagram.

Mulchposting began with a post in May from the Instagram meme account sme11a__, which featured the word “mulch” superimposed on a low-resolution image of a white dog. The post was captioned: “Mulch is here #mulchgang.” The post itself wasn’t particularly viral; In the last six months, it has garnered around 10,000 likes. The meme didn’t go viral until sme11a__ posted a reel referencing the meme a month later. Reports Know Your Meme, which garnered more than 103,000 likes. Other meme accounts began posting similar content: In a post of a comically fluffy dog ​​with the caption “sandy clay loam,” the meme account qooslag even gave credit to sme11a__ for starting the trend.

Sme11a__, whose Instagram bio says he does not have a TikTok account, continued posting mulch Reels throughout the summer. The videos usually featured supercuts of fluffy white dogs over audio about mulch. In September they published a Reel using an AI-generated child’s voice that said, “I love mulch. Mulch is my favorite food.”

Others began reposting sme11a__’s Reel on TikTok that month, which had more than 195,000 likes on Instagram. The meme, which was largely limited to Instagram, began to take off on the competing platform. On TikTok, the hashtag #mulchgang has over 49 million views and the hashtag #mulchmaxxing has over 20 million views. TikToks about the meme’s apparent darkness and strange premise further boosted its popularity.

Under video On the difficulty of explaining the meme to those who are not chronically online, TikTok user bisouchuu commented: “I’m wearing microplastics 24/7, but I keep mentioning it to my friends who aren’t tainted of Earth”.

“This message makes me feel like a Victorian child when I read it,” another user responded to bisouchuu.

Some have questioned whether posts about composting could be a signal to hate groups. Viewers are understandably suspicious of the language encoded in memes, given the history of white supremacy groups adopting seemingly innocuous images as symbols of their ideology. The white nationalist campaign to claim Pepe the Frog as the face of racist extremism has made us all tired of anything online that should be wholesome. An Instagram user asked sme11a__ to assure them that mulch gang is not an “n@z1” or an “NFT cult” in the comments of a recent reel.

“I’m none of those things, the mulch gang is just fun, dogs eat dirt,” sme11a__ responded.

Mulchposting has all the meme humor markers mischaracterized as “Generation Z culture,” which is really just very online humor. It’s absurd, easy to replicate, and there’s room for the joke to evolve. The absurdity of the Internet is cyclical in nature and posts about subscription have been preceded by years of shit.

In 2017, The Washington Post attempted to explain Internet humor in a way column titled “Why is millennial humor so strange?” The column cited the meme. “Hello Beter.” a four-panel image that begins with someone addressing “Family Guy” character Peter Griffin as “Beter” and ends with a phrase completely unrelated to the first image. In the example cited by The Washington Post, Elmo, with laser eyes, holds Peter at gunpoint and demands that he spell “Whomstve.” The meme ends by asking viewers to “follow him to get a free iPhone 5.”

In his recent Generation Z humor explained For bewildered millennials, Insider cited the Tendency to shake the wrist which went viral on TikTok earlier this year. In the Grimace milkshake videos, TikTok users filmed themselves sipping McDonald’s purple milkshake, before the video abruptly cut to show the same user incapacitated on the ground, in abandoned buildings, or in eerily empty playgrounds.

Neither “Hey Beter” nor the Grimace milkshake trend have an explicit punchline. The non sequitur is the punchline. Absurd philosophy permeates the humor of memes, and the futility of trying to explain jokes that ultimately make no sense is what makes Internet absurdity so funny. It is appropriate that the memes “One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy,” which went viral on Instagram and TikTok this year when users combined the phrase with images and videos of impossible tasks, is taken from an essay by philosopher and absurdist writer Albert Camus.

Internet culture is constantly subverted, and the “Gen Z humor” that shapes memes today, like subscription posts, is an evolution of the “millennial humor” of the 2010s. With its motivational nuances and serious in nature, the version of Internet humor that exists today is decidedly less grim than its millennial predecessor, which the guardian described as “disorienting, dark and strange” in 2019. That millennial humor was shaped by online trends that existed long before social media. The “Hamster Dance” of 1998 credited as one of the first internet memesIt was infectious, nonsensical and, at the time, inexplicably funny.

The trajectory of mulch posts, from Instagram to TikTok rather than the other way around, is unusual, but given the enduring popularity of absurd memes, it makes sense that mulch post content would be one of Instagram’s first original trends. in breaking through. the main social networks in years. Screenshots of Instagram posts, most of which come from meme accounts, are constantly reposted as TikTok slideshows, although the recycled content consists of standalone memes and has not inspired a broader trend under a unifying theme. Reels may have had original trends, like viral songs or popular editing techniques, but few, if any, have been unique enough to spread to other platforms.

Instagram’s dominance in internet culture has waned as TikTok usage has become more ubiquitous in recent years, and TikTok users have mocked Instagram users as millennials who are behind on trends. of memes. Instagram’s short-form video feature, Reels, was created to rival TikTok, but the platform’s early years have been dominated by recycled TikToks. Instagram has tried to discourage users from reposting TikToks by refusing to recommend posts containing the TikTok watermark. An internal meta document from August 2022 noted that nearly a third of Reels content was originally published elsewhere, The The Wall Street Journal reported.

Lacking original content and filled with reposts, Reels has been perceived as a platform for disconnected millennials, a sentiment many jokingly share on TikTok. More Gen Z adults use Instagram than TikTok, according to surveys conducted by data analytics company Morning Consult for its semi-annual report on media and entertainment, and more Gen Z adults use both platforms at least once a day than millennials. It’s not a generational divide that fuels the negative perception of Reels, it’s the lack of original content.

TikTok users often joke that Reels users are slow to adopt trends and behind on current events. A recent viral video about Reels users, posted in November, says: “Instagram Reels users just discovered that the submarine imploded,” referring to the OceanGate Titan submersible that He disappeared and then found wrecked in June.

Mulch is one of the first Reels trends to actually originate on Instagram and is one of the first to carry over to other social media platform formats. The meme may exist as a static image of a crisp white dog asking, “Who puts down mulch?” or as a video narrated by an AI-generated voice extolling the virtues of chewing chemically enriched soil.

In 2021, identification foretold that incomprehensible shitposting accounts would take precedence over polished meme accounts that post content for universal appeal. Nowadays, Instagram meme culture has largely shifted towards content with a lot of text and little effort which combines confessional captions with seemingly unrelated images. A recent post from the Instagram account fembiotic, for example, overlaid the text “my life is over. (my birthday is coming up)” over a vintage illustration of a cat holding a pink cupcake.

Meme accounts keep Instagram relevant against its competitors, and naturally, a meme account fueled one of the first original Reels trends.

It’s questionable whether the meme endures (nothing kills a meme faster than becoming popular enough to be co-opted by brands, or worse, covered by a media outlet), but the absurdity of the Internet shaping Mulch posts will continue to evolve into something stranger and more. inexplicable long after the mulch becomes irrelevant. By then, it will no longer be “Generation Alpha humor” or the generation that comes after. It will continue to be absurd on the Internet. Until then, Reels can shake its deeply uncool reputation by leaning on shitposting. The loam sisters are totally in favor.

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