The internet was around well before the 2010s. Heck, even social media has been around since the prior decade. However, it still feels like the 2010s was a decade where increasingly we were all experiencing the same things online. These were the memes, internet creations and strange moments that defined the 2010s on the internet — in a good way, at least. We don’t want to wade into the garbage fire that is the internet at its worst.
If you didn’t see the small child dressed as Darth Vader when he went viral online, you almost certainly saw him when he showed up at a Super Bowl. It was a case of internet meme-dom going mainstream, thanks partially in part to people’s love of “Star Wars.” See also: Chewbacca Mom.
“Twenty-two Short Films About Springfield” first aired over 20 years ago. It featured various different “Simpsons” characters having small adventures. Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers are in the episode for only a few minutes. Skinner serves Chalmers hamburgers, which he purports to call “Steamed Hams.” Somehow, in all the hundreds of hours of “The Simpsons,” this is the few minutes that spawned dozens upon dozens of memes.
You’ve seen the dog sitting in a room filling with fire with a goofy look on his face, and all he has to say is, “This is fine.” The meme has become ubiquitous online, and with good reason. What better way to ironically express your concern when the world is figuratively burning.
Here’s a viral sensation that also happened to do some good in the world. Yes, we just wanted to see celebrities dump buckets of ice water on themselves. Fortunately, it was for a good cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge was designed to create awareness, and raise money, for ALS research. Plus, as time went on, the videos got more and more clever.
Here is the modern world in a microcosm. The song “Harlem Shake” by a guy named Baauer became the No. 1 song in the country. How? Entirely because of a meme. Videos were being posted all over the internet using the “Harlem Shake” as the backdrop. They would feature jump cuts to people acting crazy when the beat dropped. Sports teams in particular seemed to love making these.
The Babadook is a monster in a horror movie of the same name. It’s largely a film about a mother dealing with the strife of parenthood. Somehow along the way, Mr. Babadook himself was turned into an LGBTQ symbol. The character is not gay. As far as we know, he has no sexual identity. He seems to mostly just be interested in being a spooky monster. This was a bit of random internet fun, but it’s quite amusing it happened.
“So bad it’s good” is a longtime staple of the movie-going experience. From “Plan 9 from Outer Space” to “The Room,” we have long shared movies so lousy they are fascinating. Now, though, we have social media, so we can share our joy over cheesy movies with strangers all over the world. That’s the entire reason they made not one but several “Sharknado” movies. Also, shout out to the less loved, but honestly better, “Lavalantula” movies.
“The Brady Bunch” movie came out in 1995, and it was a campy riff on a sitcom from the ‘70s. So how did it become part of the world of teenage memes? Thank Netflix, which also gave modern teenagers a chance to get into “Friends” like it’s the ‘90s all over again. An image of Marcia dismissively saying, “Sure, Jan” briefly became a hot meme anytime people wanted to express skepticism. No word on what Sam the Butcher feels about all this.
We aren’t here to relitigate this. Maybe you thought the dress was white and gold. Maybe you thought it was blue and black. All we know is that you definitely had an opinion, because seemingly everybody did. A simple dress took the world by storm, mostly because half of you are wrong about which color the dress was.
Sometimes, a random image gets turned into a meme, and a viral sensation is born. Take the stock photo of a woman being annoyed by her boyfriend being distracted, like REALLY distracted, by a lady walking by. People would make memes tagging who or what everybody in the photo was. You still see distracted boyfriend memes to this day.
A little cat named Tardar Sauce had its photo posted on Reddit one day. The next thing we knew, Grumpy Cat was born. Little Tardar looked like she was annoyed even though she wasn’t. It delighted people, and Grumpy Cat became a feline celebrity. There even was a Lifetime Christmas movie starring Grumpy Cat. Sadly, lil’ Tardar Sauce is no longer with us, as the internet’s favorite kitty died in 2019.
They take hockey pretty seriously up in Canada. To that point, when the Vancouver Canucks fell at home to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the city exploded into a riot. It was pretty nasty, with over 100 people being arrested. The lasting image, though, is of a couple in the middle of the riot lying on the ground and kissing. It’s maybe the most iconic photo of the decade.
Look, let’s be honest. We all just like saying “Salt Bae.” It’s a ridiculous nickname for somebody to have bestowed upon them. Also, Salt Bae himself is kind of a ridiculous guy. He’s a Turkish chef who became famous for a short video of him extravagantly salting some meat. Yes, that sometimes is enough to become a viral meme.
Area 51 has long been a place of fascination for people. Rumors abound about aliens and government conspiracies taking place there. This led to a massive online plan for people to “storm” Area 51 to expose the secrets and maybe hang out with some aliens. It wasn’t serious, of course. Most people don’t want to get shot down by the government for the sake of an internet meme. It really took the world by storm, though.
We don’t really want to talk about the 2016 election, but we can still at least get a chuckle over Ken Bone, right? Sure, it turned out that he has some iffy stuff in his internet past, because that’s the risk of turning people into memes. And yet, for a moment, people were obsessed with an undecided voter in a red sweater with the name of “Ken Bone.”
We hadn’t heard of Psy, the Korean musician, before “Gangnam Style.” We haven’t really heard from him since. In the middle, though, came one of the biggest viral hits ever. For about five years this decade, 2012 to 2017, “Gangnam Style” was the most viewed video in YouTube history.
It was just a random day in February of 2015 when Twitter exploded with the story of two llamas on the run in Arizona. The coverage was breathless. The llamas were probably the most famous and celebrated of the renegade animals that social media fell in love with. However, let’s not forget the raccoon that climbed that building in Minnesota either.
Few people were up at 4 a.m. when “Too Many Cooks” aired on Adult Swim. Thankfully, these days you don’t have to watch TV live to see it. The short, which is an extended parody of TV opening credits that gets weirder and weirder, is maybe the most popular thing that has ever aired on Adult Swim. It was a supremely strange one-off special, and Smarf will forever live in our hearts.
Why Smash Mouth? We don’t know. Maybe we can thank the “Shrek” soundtrack for giving a younger generation an introduction to the scream-sung lyrics of “All Star.” For whatever reason, the not-exactly-beloved California band has became a darling of memes, especially “All Star.” At least the guys in the band seem to accept their strange fate.
Vine launched in January 2013. The app allowed you to create six-second videos that would loop. It became a source of a ton of memes, viral videos and all sorts of things. Legitimate Vine stars were born. Of course, as quickly as Vine exploded, it began to fall. By January of 2017, it was shut down. We’ll always have the short, looping memories.
The power of the earworm has lasted into the 2010s. “Baby Shark” is simple and repetitive but inescapable. It is a song that was designed to be catchy for kids and in the process became an earworm that has expanded beyond the realm of kids music. In fact, Gerardo Parra of the Washington Nationals started using “Baby Shark” as a walk-up song, making it something of an anthem for the eventual World Series champions.
Watching live events along with people on social media has changed them. A lot of times, it's a sports moment that captures the zeitgeist on Twitter. However, the Oscars got wrapped up in the social media storm but not for great reasons. Faye Dunaway declared “La La Land” had won Best Picture. People began expressing their displeasure online. Before too long, though, chaos had overtaken the Oscars. It turns out that, in fact, “Moonlight” had won Best Picture. And Twitter was there to capture it all.
Let the internet name something for you, and it could end up not going how you wish. For example, when the British Antarctic Survey put out an online poll looking for the name of its new ship, the runaway winner was Boaty McBoatface. Granted, it didn’t end up going with that name, instead naming the research ship after David Attenborough. However, to appease the Boaty McBoatface fans out there, one of the submersibles on the ship was named after the poll winner.
People on the internet love dogs. Over the last decade, a whole new vernacular to talk about dogs has emerged online. We have to give specific attention to Doge, though, a meme based around photos of a Shiba Inu. The Doge was named “meme of the year” by the website Know Your Meme, in 2013, and there was even a cryptocurrency launched in honor of Doge.
By the end of the decade, “Avengers: Endgame” would be the highest-grossing film of all time. People wondered how the good guys would be able to defeat Thanos and also undo “the snap.” There were some serious hypotheses, including some that were close to being correct. Then there was a less serious one involving the comedic character of Ant-Man. We won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say the meme revolved around the fact that Ant-Man can shrink down until he’s quite small and could thus, in theory, enter Thanos’ body through, ahem, a certain orifice and then grow back to a larger size to make Thanos explode from within.