My 6 year old son entered the house loudly. This was normal, almost expected. He does most things loudly and I love him for it.
He dropped his orange school bag in an awkward place it shouldn’t be, then walked over to our Alexa Studio, located next to the family TV, and started chatting.
“ALEXA …” he said, with the talk of a drunken hell dwarf. “PLAY RICK ROLL … ON THE SOUNDTRACK.”
Always asks Alexa to play songs “IN THE SOUNDTRACK. ”
That was when it happened. Thirty-five years after the song’s initial release (and 16 years after “Rickrolling” was first popularized online) my house rocked to the sweet, sweet sound of Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up.
How did it happen? How did this 6-year-old find out about Rick Astley and this song? The reasons were not clear.
So I asked him. How come? Because accidentally walked into our house and asked Alexa to play Never Gonna Give You Up?
I was promptly gutted.
“POPE. You don’t even know what to Rickroll is? ”
As Principal Skinner once asked: Am I out of this world? Or are the kids wrong?
Parenting books won’t help you. Nothing written or published in our present time can prepare you for the hell of parenting at the cutting edge of technology. 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 Minecoin.
Most of all they won’t tell you about memes. But I know one thing: children love meme.
I have two boys. A 6-year-old and a 9-year-old. Children of this age, for one reason or another, love memes.
But not like you or I love memes. No. They don’t consume memes like us, they don’t talk about memes like us. They don’t even think of them the same way. It’s strange.
Contrary to the “kids get too much screen time” fiction, most young children aren’t as tied to online culture as we adults are. Due to screen time constraints and intermittent access to online devices, they aren’t scrolling through Instagram Stories or browsing without thinking TikTok like teens.
No, they get exposed to memes the old fashioned way – on the playground.
Just like in the old days, when urban legends spread from big brother to knowledgeable younger brother and beyond, children constantly proliferate pre-existing memes completely separate from the context of their origins. They are consumed by osmosis, via a family member or YouTube streamer, then quickly co-opted. They quickly become part of a bizarre shared language. Nonsense words that are simply shouted on the playground but have no literal sense.
This is why my 9 year old boy yells “SUCCULENT CHINESE MEAL” at totally inappropriate moments. Because my 6-year-old knows every word of Never Gonna Give You Up and finds it hilarious, despite the fact that he doesn’t have a real understanding of why that song has had such a massive impact on generations of people perpetually online.
I distinctly remember riding my eldest son and one of his friends in an indoor trampoline center. Suddenly, a guy rolled down my car window, before yelling “MAH NAME JEFF” to random passersby on the street. All the children folded in laughter. I was shocked.
I guarantee none of these kids have seen 22 Jump Street and I also guarantee that none of them could pick Channing Tatum from a lineup if her life depended on it. So what happened? My guess: one day a nice guy said “MAH NAME JEFF” on the playground and everyone laughed. So everyone kept saying it. Again and again. Like a cooked ad for Budweiser.
In a way it is normal. Memes have penetrated our wider culture to the point that you don’t need to understand their history to find them funny. There is a collective and shared understanding that “this is fun”. Memes evolve. We apply their concepts to new, increasingly complex and implicitly right situations obtain it. We are laughing together because it is normal. Somehow it makes us laugh more.
But the kids are taking it to the next level. Now this shit doesn’t even need to be done sense.
One day I was having dinner with my children. We were laughing and joking and I started talking in a silly voice. I can’t remember a single thing I said or even what the voice sounded like, but my kids were losing speech, so I just kept moving on. After a while it has aged. The laughter subsided. It was then that my eldest son stopped and asked me seriously enough.
“Which meme did it come from?”
When it comes to meme consumption, children are disconnected from time and space. They just don’t give a shit. Old memes, new memes … there is no distinction between the two. Their world is the playground. Whatever is relevant is relevant to them as individuals and as a collective. That’s all. Nothing else matters.
My 9-year-old comes home regularly and says, “Hey dad, do you see this awesome new meme?” Then, without a shred of irony, ask me at Google “. ”
But while kids are cut adrift by trends and understanding of what’s new, they exist at the cutting edge. Their meme consumption is a different, almost elevated experience. We just adopted the meme, they were born to it. Children exist on a different plane dissociated from meaning. They simply scream a word or phrase like a warped spell and have the desired effect on them as if by magic. EXPELLING ME! It is almost admirable. Completely unpretentious.
How will it evolve? How will this translate when this damned generation of children will have direct and unlimited access to the internet via their cell phones and laptops? It is impossible to tell. All bets are closed. Only one thing is certain: we will be left behind. We will be mocked, ridiculed in group chats or TikTok or whatever will end up being their preferred platform. This is the nature of things.
Whatever the adults are doing is wrong now. Sorry Principal Skinner, it’s just facts. Whatever they are about to do is the only way forward. We might as well get used to it. We might as well get on board while there is still time.
MAH NAME JEFF.