We Can Do Better Than Memes About Mike Pence’s Fly
On Wednesday, a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head during the vice-presidential debates. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, you have likely been quarantined without an internet connection. You are also very lucky because you have missed the seemingly endless barrage of memes, tweets, videos, and posts about the fly.
The fly memes followed a familiar format: People rushed to create a Twitter account for the fly, ala Left Shark and the Bronx Cobra. Because it’s October, people began to speculate about the Halloween costumes (or lack thereof).
I wish Halloween parties were happening this year so I could go as “slutty Mike Pence fly”.— Randy Rainbow (@RandyRainbow) October 8, 2020
Most tweets fell into the “Fly is a Biden supporter!” camp.
And plenty of others found ways to mash the fly up with existing memes.
The fly that landed on #pinkeyepence @VP's head during the debate felt that she landed on the biggest turd ever with all the bullshit that was coming out of @VP's mouth#VoteBlueToSaveAmerica #VPDebate2020 #flygate https://t.co/neqQHzAIrI pic.twitter.com/ZRmOc2ijZo— Nestor "the boss" Gomez (@soloyochapin) October 8, 2020
The Biden campaign quickly capitalized on the moment, too, selling $10 fly swatters that say “Truth over flies.”
Many people praised the move as a quick-thinking stroke of genius. But it is also reminiscent of another meme co-opted by Democrats. Hillary Clinton saying “Pokemon go to the polls” or “hot sauce in my bag” were cringey examples of a politician self-consciously attempting to sound in touch.
In other words, if a major political party is making the same joke as you, your joke probably isn’t that funny.
And oh, yeah: The tweets took a racist turn, with people making jokes in the vein of “Black Flies Matter.”
not a chuckle. not a haha not even a hehe. pic.twitter.com/nJqf880WzN— ⁷ (@shookytwts) October 8, 2020
It’s funny because Mike Pence is racist, unlike the Democrats tweeting about Black people… being flies?
Memes work best when they are subversive and surprising. Very few of the fly memes offered anything that we hadn’t seen five years ago. One exception is comedian Seynique, who did a send-up of the people who tweeted “black friend” jokes about the fly.
sorry for my “racist” black friend joke pic.twitter.com/jfC3v003OZ— Seynique (@sey_anything) October 8, 2020
Aside from the metacommentary, there was very little worth sharing about the trending fly. (Of course, that didn’t stop websites from publishing “best fly Tweets” round-ups.) As internet culture is increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream, the jokes trending there are going to get more mainstream, too. What was also once surprising, like a cultural phenomenon getting its own Twitter account, can only stay surprising for so long. But before we despair that all internet humor will become one boomer Minion meme, there’s hope. Some of the best recent memes have come from activist accounts that often repurpose cheesy, tired mainstream memes into something that actually feels disruptive. Even in a world where a fly joke can reign supreme, there’s still hope for something better.