My 6 year old entered the house noisily. That was normal, almost expected. He does most things noisily and I love him for it.
He dropped his orange school bag in an inconvenient place where it shouldn’t have been, then walked over to our Alexa studio, which is next to the family TV, and started chopping.
“ALEXA…” he said with the speech patterns of a drunk hell dwarf. “PLAYING RICK ROLL… ON THE SOUNDTRACK.”
He’s always asking Alexa to play songs”ON THE SOUNDTRACK.”
That’s when it happened. Thirty-five years after the song was first released (and 16 years after “Rickrolling” was first popularized online), my house has been rocking to the sweet, sweet sounds of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up.
How did it happen? How did this 6 year old boy become aware of Rick Astley and this song? The reasons were unclear.
So I asked him. Why? Why randomly walked into our house and asked Alexa to play Never Gonna Give You Up?
I was immediately gutted.
“THIS. You don’t even know what and Rickroll Yippee?”
As Principal Skinner once asked: Am I out of touch? Or are the children wrong?
Parenting books won’t help you. Nothing written or published in our current age can prepare you for the hell of high-tech parenting. They can’t teach you how to handle Roblox or Fortnite or the time your son/daughter “accidentally” used your credit card to spend $100 on Minecoins.
In particular, they won’t tell you about memes. But I know one thing: Children love memes.
I have two boys. Six years and one 9 years. Kids this age love memes for a reason.
But not like you or I love memes. No. They don’t consume memes like we do, they don’t talk about memes like we do. Nor do they think of them in the same way. That’s weird.
Contrary to the “kids have too much screen time” narrative, most young children are not as attached to online culture as we adults are. With limited screen time and intermittent access to online devices, they aren’t scrolling through Instagram stories or mindlessly scrolling through TikToks like teenagers.
No, they’re exposed to memes the old-fashioned way – on the playground.
Much like the old days when urban legends spread from older sibling to savvy younger brother and beyond, children are constantly multiplying pre-existing memes completely detached from the context of their origin. They are consumed by osmosis through a family member or YouTube streamer and then quickly co-opted. They quickly become part of a bizarre shared language. Nonsense words that are simply shouted on the pitch without making any literal sense.
This is why my 9 year old screams “JUCCI CHINESE FOOD” at completely inappropriate times. Why does my 6-year-old know every word to Never Gonna Give You Up and find it hilarious, even though he has absolutely no idea why the song has had such a massive impact on generations of perpetually online people.
I clearly remember taking my oldest son and one of his friends to an indoor trampoline center. One kid unprompted rolled down my car window and yelled “MAH NAME JEFF” at a random passerby on the street. All the children laughed. I was shocked.
I guarantee that none of these kids watched 22 Jump Street, and I also guarantee that none of them could pick Channing Tatum out of a lineup if their lives depended on it. So what happened? My guess: One day a cool kid on the playground said “MAH NAME JEFF” and everyone laughed. That’s what everyone kept saying. Again and again. Like a brewed Budweiser commercial.
In some ways, this is normal. Memes have permeated our wider culture to the point where you don’t need to understand their history to find them funny. There is a collective shared understanding that “this is funny”. Memes evolve. We apply their concepts to new, increasingly complex and implicitly fair situations get it. We laugh together because it’s normal. Somehow it makes us laugh more.
But kids take it to the next level. Now you don’t even need to do this shit meaning.
One day I was having dinner with my children. We laughed and joked and I started talking in a stupid voice. I don’t remember a single thing I said or even what the voice sounded like, but my kids were losing it so I just kept going. It got old after a while. The laughter died down. That’s when my oldest child stopped and asked me quite seriously.
“What meme was that from?”
When it comes to consuming memes, kids are disconnected from time and space. It just doesn’t suit them. Old memes, new memes… there is no difference between them. Their world is a playground. Whatever is relevant is relevant to them as individuals and collectively. And it is done. Nothing else matters.
My nine-year-old will regularly come home and say, “Hey Dad, see that cool new meme?” Then, without a hint of irony, ask me to Google”.”
But while children are cut off from trends and understanding what’s new, they exist on the cutting edge. Their meme consumption is a different, almost heightened experience. We only adopted the meme, they were born into it. Children exist on another plane separate from meaning. They simply shout out a word or phrase like a warped incantation and its desired effect works on them like a spell. EXPELLIARMUS! It’s almost admirable. Absolutely no pretense.
How will it develop? How will this play out when this cursed generation of children has direct, untethered access to the Internet through their own cell phones and laptops? That cannot be said. All bets are off. Only one thing is certain: We will be left behind. We’ll mock, mock in group chats or TikToks or whatever ends up being their platform. That’s the nature of things.
Whatever adults are doing now is wrong. Sorry Principal Skinner, those are just the facts. Whatever they’re going to do, it’s the only way forward. You can get used to it. You might as well jump on board while there’s still time.
MAH NAME JEFF.
#bizarre #kids #memes #boggles #mind