On a recent Saturday night in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a crowd of young meme makers, viral meme account admins, and meme enthusiasts gathered at a bar for a party described as "an IRL party for URL friends."
The party, dubbed "Cooler Online," is a recurring event hosted by Bianca Perez, better known as @yung_nihilist; Amelia Capaz, aka @th0tcouture; and Alyza Enriquez, who handles graphics and photography. The goal of the party, according to Capaz, was to "showcase the content and humor of online creators, mainly (but not limited to) QTPOC, women, and those originating in marginalized communities."
That content and humor consisted of insightful and cutting memes and viral tweets showcased live in video format on a giant screen via projector over a large dance floor where memers and their fans could dance and have fun.
"We basically wanted to take this online community offline and into real life, allowing people to network and make friends in a space they can feel safe and have fun," Capaz said.
The community Capaz is referring to is a growing group of meme accounts that use humor to shed light on and tackle tough issues like racism, sexism, mental health, and social injustice. These accounts form a loose network that includes Instagrammers like, @Binchcity, @sadafricaqueen, and @scariest_bug_ever. They're a more niche subset of the broader viral meme community, but followers of these accounts say that they feel more intimately attached to the creators of this type of content.
"I hate to call them woke memes, but that's sort of what they are. Not in like a spammy, viral hashtag resist type of way. They're just smart, intelligent memes if I had to describe them. Some of them are very personal and a lot deal with life or mental health issues," one follower said.
Capaz said that while that depiction isn't wrong, to her and others in the community, it's as much about the creators as the memes themselves. "We try to make a point of showcasing the work of poc/lgtbq content creators, and having a super talented and diverse lineup with diverse work," she said. "The area of the web which we occupy is a place for people to complain, but also a place for people to share ideas and be encouraged."
"I think the common denominator found amongst our online community is relatability," Capaz said. "Much like the friendships we make in real life, we find likeness in others online who care about the same issues we do (i.e. racial equality, gender equality, equal rights for the lgbtq community, etc), who can share the same 'millennial miseries,' and have the same distorted humor."
The party kicked off around 10pm, though the majority of guests didn't start to trickle in until 11. It was crowded and loud at the bar but the entire back room had been reserved.
Shortly after things began, someone fiddled with the projector and loop of giant Instagram memes began scrolling over the screen. Nearby, a DJ began blasting a set. The event had two DJs, one by the name of DJ Sissy Elliott and the other a self-described artist and memestress named Pastiche Lumumba.
A man wearing a sweatshirt with a blown up close-up of Oprah's face took to the dance floor. His name was Jovan, known on Twitter as @ehjovan, and he said that he was there because one of his followers actually helped organize the event.
"She liked my account," he said, "and invited me." Jovan described his Twitter account as "really personal. I tweet a lot about dick, weed, and life."
"At first I was skeptical but it’s pretty chill and now I’m drunk I'm having a great time," he said of the party. "It's very conceptual but I like it. This is my first meme meetup."
"I enjoy meeting other memers," he added. "We follow each other. I bounce ideas off other people here. Internet fame is becoming real fame. It’s not just theater anymore, it’s real life. I think it's cool I can meet my followers and they can see that my personality is more than just what they see on the internet."
Courtneigh, a meme enthusiast from Chicago who now lives in Bushwick, said she found out about the event through word of mouth, but that she was a big fan of the people who organized it. One thing she said appreciates about the type of content they and their cohort create is that it's very inclusive.
"Their memes are very LGB-inclusive. Very feminist. Very POC-inclusive. They’re kind of a subculture of memes," Courtneigh said. "They’re not the most popular memes, but they’re the ones people who follow want to see."
Analise, another Brooklyner who is originally from Massachusetts said that the inclusivity of the content is what appealed to her too. She said that she was friends with Perez and a huge fan of her memes.
"Bianca is just a really important person," Analise said. "She’s rooted in social movements. She’s from Brooklyn, born and raised. Nothing she does is contrived. A lot of mainstream meme accounts can just do what everyone likes. Bianca and the stuff she creates is real. She’s really critical of the systems we live in and things that everyone else just accepts."
Analise said she'd never been to a party where the visuals tied to the music but she and other attendees said they appreciated having the memes scrolling across the large screen to engage with. Memes, whether online or off, can act as a powerful icebreaker.
"My friends run a digital zine called spices and they love this event because of the memes and the music," added Kari, a writer in Brooklyn. "There’s a lot of dance situations where people are afraid to start moving. Memes give your eye something to look at so your body isn’t thinking. It’s fun having something visual to watch. You don’t have to think, 'how do I look to other people?' You're looking at memes.'
"Memes give everyone a common ground to connect on," she added. "We have all seen these memes so you can make conversation about them."
"I appreciate the meta-ness of having memes play at a memer party," said Kate from Wisconsin. "I’ve never been to a bar party where people have an element of of irony to them. It’s like, we all like memes, clearly, instead of just like, oh we are all drunk and having fun. These are good memes capital G."
Natalia, who works in the art industry and wrote her masters thesis on memes as an art medium, said she was at the party to have fun and because she's been studying the way memes enter real life and how they're presented offline.
"I think it’s interesting how they project the memes rather than a gallery," she said. "I know they wanted this to be a social event, not a gallery opening. Memes are in the background but it’s still a party."
"I think this event is important because it's the first meme-related art show in NYC," she added. "Even though it’s not promoted as an art show it’s the first time I’ve seen memes presented this way at least."
"I’ve been to clubs where they play porn on the wall, so seems like a more family-friendly version of that," said an attendee named Drew. "It’s something to tell everyone else who wasn’t here about."
A girl in a striped shirt named Rachel said shortly after, "Honestly, I just like this bar a lot, and I like memes a lot, and I like my friends. So this party is a good mix of all three."