Memes featuring cute animals are a cornerstone of social media and online culture. For the most part, they’re heartwarming, adorable, and completely harmless. Many of them even become viral sensations that permeate pop culture and inspire creativity. That said, there is also something deeply unsettling about the thought of one person influencing millions of people with a single image.
Just imagine if one of those little critters that brightens your Twitter feed had the power to bring about the end of days. That’s the premise of Memetic, a three-part horror comic book series created by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan that Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Mattson Tomlin are developing as a movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The story is concerned with memes, and how they can be weaponized in the wrong hands. If this movie lives up to its potential, it will address some of the foremost concerns of the digital age.
In the comic, the human race falls in love with a seemingly innocent meme known as Good Times Sloth. On the surface, it’s just an image of a cute sloth. But those who lay eyes upon the meme turn into bloodthirsty, homicidal maniacs who are eager to kill those who have not been entranced by the creature’s smiling face. Where did this image come from? Who made it? Why do they want to destroy the human race?
Memetic sounds like another zombie apocalypse story, but it’s not. While it does center around a virus that turns people into infected creatures, they are more like possessed fanatics than undead ghouls. Furthermore, the overall saga is ambitious, mysterious, unpredictable, conspiratorial, and boasts plenty of unexpected twists and moments of depravity. For example, in one scene, thousands of naked bodies pile up and fuse together to create a large, fleshy tower. It’s gross, but there’s a point to this madness.
The horror genre has been warning viewers about the dangers of the digital world for decades, and Memetic isn’t unique in that regard. That said, the way in which it broadcasts its message is very original, and focusing on the current internet meme phenomenon to instill fear in people is absolutely genius. Because we should be wary of memes.
Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. According to the evolutionary biologist, a meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene that spreads information from one host’s mind to another through imitation and replication. Granted, the internet isn’t the only outlet that’s associated with memes, but it’s arguably the most powerful tool for them.
Statista notes that over four billion people had access to the internet in 2019. It’s also safe to assume that a substantial portion of those people have spread memes throughout the online world. Memes are a major form of communication and expression within virtual communities, but at their worst, they can influence behaviors, ideas, and viewpoints that are toxic and destructive.
Pepe the Frog is a prime example of a meme that’s synonymous with the dark side of online culture. The once innocent anthropomorphic frog was adopted by right-wing trolls and subsequently became a symbol of the Alt-Right movement. These days, the cartoon amphibian is regarded by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. Of course, Pepe isn’t the only meme that’s been used by people to endorse bad ideas — any image can contain a negative message, and it only takes one to go viral and resonate with people.
Memetic’s premise of a sloth meme turning people into zombie-like killers is outlandish, but the core argument is rooted in reality: the internet is a spawning ground for terrible ideas to form and spread. And sometimes, those awful and potentially harmful ideas are accompanied by images of funny animals that people find alluring.
The Memetic comics are horror at its most intelligent, thought-provoking, and bleak. It’s also really weird, and hopefully, the movie doesn’t dilute its surreal qualities too much. Tynion and Donovan were inspired by the Japanese manga legend Jungo Ito, and Memetic is very reminiscent of Uzumaki at times, thanks to its disorienting artwork, nihilistic worldview, and cosmic ideas. Fortunately, Rogen and Goldberg have a great track record when it comes to producing adaptations of strange comics, as evidenced by Preacher and The Boys.
Here’s hoping that Memetic makes it to the screen. If it does, horror buffs will be treated to a unique story that taps into some topical anxieties and doesn’t hold back when it comes to unleashing carnage. And who knows? Maybe people will look at cute animal memes in a different light afterward.