My life as a Meme

If you don’t know Chloe Woodard by name, you have almost certainly seen her face. The 19-year-old from Chicago exploded into the cultural consciousness in 2015, after posting a six-second Vine in which she keeps time to a-ha’s “Take on Me,” and at the final moment, turns around with a wide, braces-baring grin and a comically shrunken pair of black sunglasses. Woodard, better known online as “the girl who turns around,” became almost instantaneously famous, getting turned into one of the first memes before amassing nearly one million followers on Vine with her wry and goofy viral vignettes. Now, three years later, the student and artist is taking a break from the internet. We sat down with Woodard to trace the development of meme culture, the pros and cons of growing up online, and where content creation is headed next. Irregular Report What is your definition of a meme? Chloe Woodard Pretty much any joke or idea that falls within a common template. There are actual picture templates, and then meme creators, or whatnot, will enter their own text into them to give it their own meaning and then share it with their community. Whether or not it’s the same joke doesn’t matter, but they’re all relating to the same piece of imagery.

IR What is the art you are making now?

CW I have been working on a poetry book for about a year now. I also do some solo music, and music with a band, just casually. But the poetry is what I’m really focused on. I have a highlight on my Instagram just for people to see it, but I haven’t posted it anywhere officially.

IR Is it something you feel like you would want to publish versus post? Going from a digital space of creation to a kind of analog space, do you feel you have more control over the content?

CW Every form of putting your art out there is valid to me, but for poetry I want to make a book. I want it to feel official to me. That’s just my personal thing. People are doing perfectly fine posting poetry. Honestly, sharing it any way is a good thing. It’s just personal choice. The control thing is definitely something I’m aware of.

IR As someone who made an original meme that was taken by Jake Paul — somebody who you probably find, you know, generally reprehensible — has that influenced your opinion or attitude towards ownership?

CW It did a lot. Originality was a huge deal on Vine anyway. There were a lot of Viners who would steal each other’s ideas, so being genuine was a huge deal. The thing with Jake Paul is that I don’t mind if people recreate my Vine. I see that as them enjoying something and mimicking it. I would expect that. I just didn’t want Jake Paul to do it, because someone gross was taking something that was positive for me. Seeing how easily someone could take something and make it into something that it isn’t just for the sake of taking it, made me want to produce more genuine, original work. No matter what sells, what gets views or what is popular, I just want to do what I like personally, because I don’t see the value in pandering. At the end of the day, if you are making something — a 6-second video or a book of poetry — you should be happy with it.

IR We are hearing a lot about fluid communities being anchored in a spoken or sometimes unspoken code of ethics. Did you feel that with Vine?

CW Yeah. There’s the whole canceled-culture. That was a big thing, because the comments on Vine were completely unfiltered. When people saw something that wasn’t original, they were not afraid to call you out. It’s so easy to steal content on the internet. All you have to do is crop out someone’s username in a picture and repost it. It was a little more difficult to steal mine because my face was in them. I think a lot of people now are trying to give credit to those who deserve it. People are putting more trademarks on things, trying to make their work special and more original to them — things that other people can’t really take without being recognized.

IR So do you think that there’s a shift where there will be more responsibility toward ownership with less borrowing or stealing?

CW I think we got excited when social media blew up. Especially in 2015-2016, there was really no one policing anyone and things got kind of out of control. People feel free to say anything that they want on the internet now, but I do think that as we have grown, my generation has recognized that no one is going to police us, so we all have to police ourselves. We have to recognize what is okay to post, and what isn’t. We are conscious not to rip off anyone else, because at the end of the day it only benefits you to make original, positive work.

IR Can a meme retain its authored originality? Or does it have an impermanent originality in that after a meme goes out, someone recontextualizes it, or adds onto it, and it takes on a new form?

CW I think you are going to find a lot more lack of originality just because that’s easier. There are still memes that start off as this static original thing, but there are also an abundance of memes that are derived from another one, or added on to or changed. The old memes from 2010 and 2012 are coming back. It’s funny again, but only because they were memes in 2010 or 2012, if that makes sense. It’s always going to have an originality to it, but mostly, in the internet culture that I have seen, I think there’s a lot more recontextualizing than there is original work.

IR You have mentioned that you didn’t expect your Vine account to blow up the way it did. How do you think it affected your perspective on privacy or identity? Do you think it made you more open-minded or did it make you want to be more reclusive?

CW Because my face was in most of my Vines, I got recognized pretty often. It’s definitely a weird thing because now it’s evolved into almost an anxiety about going out and having to see people who know who I am. I’m expected to be the personality that I am online, even though that might not be who I am in real life every day. I feel like I’m not really seen as a stranger that you’re meeting for the first time. It’s more like, “Oh, you’re a thing that I know about, and I want to know more.” I have people ask me about my personal relationships when I first meet them. It’s odd. So I do love privacy a lot more.

IR Does the feedback ever become overwhelming?

CW Even though I have online, private, and in public personas, they all change simultaneously. People watch the personality that I have online change a lot, and they have watched me grow up and mature for three years now. They have seen me go through weird phases. People are not afraid to comment on that — things about my appearance like, “Your hair looked better when it was long.” I’ve been staying off social media for a little while because it got to be a lot for me. Constantly having people give you feedback on every single thing that you do is kind of crazy.

IR Every day there seems to be a hack or a threat of security. They are constant reminders that your information is out there, and how much control and privacy we have is questionable. Since you and your generation essentially grew up online, do you think that has impacted your sense of security and privacy? Has it impacted how you have chosen to make work?

CW We aren’t as worried about the presence of digital hackers or a kind of digital overlord, because we kind of feel like it’s already too late for us. We have been on the internet since we were children. I remember going to a meeting in fifth grade in my library and they were talking about how to stay safe on the internet and how to make your usernames and passwords so that you don’t get your accounts hacked. So we have been very aware of social media and security for a long time. It’s something you become desensitized to. But I also think that it is, in fact, easy to hide things online. People have entire fake personas that are entirely different from who they are in real life. I don’t share too much about my personal life on my Instagram. Yes, my poetry is very personal, but I’m not out there making a post like, “Hey, guys: This is what this is about.” I am able to keep some parts of my private life private. People still try to break that. I have had a lot of DMs where people are like, “Hey, I saw your picture on a Reddit thread where people are trying to hack into iPhones and find news” or something. And that’s scary. I become a target because I put myself out there.

IR Do you think that this deep obsession with Vine, Instagram, Instagram stories and internet culture is really sustainable?

CW I think right now it’s too much. We are pushing the envelope as to what really qualifies as content. Now we have YouTubers who are creating series for other YouTubers just to talk about YouTube drama, basically. And YouTube drama has become real news. So many actual news outlets reported on Jake Paul and what he was doing. What I have been seeing with a few people is that taking a break from the internet or being done with it is healthier or positively benefiting them. Like I said, I have kind of been taking a break recently, and it’s been interesting. I didn’t realize how much time I devoted or how much thought I was putting into my social medias until I stopped doing it. I think too many people are already online to the point where it probably won’t fizzle out. But I think something’s going to break, and I feel like it’s going to be soon. It could be a total wipeout, but I think it’s probably going to go in the direction of making new content that is unlike anything that we have seen before, just because it has to be different. We can’t keep doing the same things forever.

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I wish my life happened only in summer.

The sun is to blame for my sadness. The sun is the biggest trap for the Greek youth. Everything around me is so nice visually, so joyful and shiny and high resolution. But nothing around me has potential. When people talk it’s depressing. Not romantically depressing. When you are in it, it doesn’t feel like a radical, fresh start. It is anxiously depressing.

Most people my age, in their early 20’s, either just finished university and got a scarily useless degree or they are still studying in a public university, unable to finish it because of the strikes and the exam cancellations or they never went to university. And why should they to be honest?

When it’s not summer, it’s not hot and it’s not sunny it feels like you suddenly have to face reality, with no sun covering the depressing scenery around you.

During the summer you make plans and dreams. You will find a job, you will be lucky and you will be able to rent a flat in the centre and leave your parents’ house. You will have this job in the mornings, go out with everyone in the weekends keep some money on the side to travel a bit. Your work and social life will reach a peak. You will go against the odds of the crisis, you can do it. Your winter is going to be great. Your spring even greater, as it follows after such a productive winter. Everything is in order and you are just enjoying life. You are considering any job. You have already realised that a career is just a result of connections and luck, but any job is good. 3 euros per hour is extra good, your friends get paid 2,50…

But you can’t support yourself. You can’t do anything. You can’t even rent the flat at 100 euros per month in the centre, you can’t leave your parents’ house.

You are left in front of your computer screen scrolling on your Facebook feed. Watching these videos on loop in silent. You are watching them again and again and then you put the sound on and you watch them two times more. Dolphins that pass through hoops and videos of hands touching slime and a video with headings about the American elections.

When the sun goes away my anxiety gets so strong I feel breathless. We hang around all together and when the future is mentioned empty words follow. Some deep breaths, a bit of laughing and some mumbling. And that is not ok. Because we have potential and energy. But instead we wake up late and feel guilty and there is nothing to do. Really nothing to do. You can’t understand if you have never experienced how it is to wake up everyday for months and literally have no options or a purpose or anything to do.

There is no future for this generation, no matter how hard you try to be positive and active, no matter how many hours you work. My sister is 35 and she had to have an abortion because she can’t support a child. How awfully much she cried thinking she is inadequate, blaming herself… She has the best job out of her friends and she still can’t pay her rent and have a family. The thought that an uncontrollable outside factor decides your future scares me. It’s so hard to realise that in order to do something you have to leave your country and your friends and your family. It is a lose-lose situation. You just can’t win. If you stay, you will never discover your potential, your personal best. But if you leave you lose things you love, you might be lonely, you will miss out important events, you risk losing your personal state of “happy”.

We have to come to terms with this compromise and this mediocrity and this lack of potential. But then the summer comes, and the sun, and it’s like I forget.And it is so nice and calm and happy. And we just exist in cars and go to the beach and talk about anything but the future and spend no money because it’s too hot to eat.

Maybe everything else gets compared with summer and that is why it looks so low quality.

I watch the lives of other girls online. I can’t stop thinking how whatever happens around me affects me so deeply. It affects me so much it defines my future. It defines my mood, my relationships, how I am spending my winter. It’s funny because within this global online community we live in, we sometimes get carried away and forget the social circumstances around us. And that can be interesting but at other times it is just disheartening and unfair…

How can I change this?

How could I change this? How can I make the most out of this situation? Maybe I should focus on my personal relationships. Maybe that is what this whole thing teaches us. It’s just this lack of options that makes my eyes water. But we should unite and focus our energy in things other than a professional career. Be ok with what is considered average. There are many things out there. Must be. No matter what season we are in.   :’(

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There are certain experiences and events that belong to the “this would never happen to you” category. Pregnancy. This would never happen to me. Losing an arm or a leg. This would never happen to me. My boyfriend cheating with my sister. This would never happen to me. Cancer. This would never happen to me. Losing both my parents in one day. This would never happen to me. But it did. I was watching Girls on Putlocker with my best friend. The internet kept lagging and I was like, “why is this happening to me?” My phone rang and it was my sister. I didn’t pick up, I would call her after the episode. She kept calling and I thought she had a stupid fight with her stupid boyfriend again. I picked up, she was crying and she told me our parents had an accident coming back home from our aunt’s house. They went to the hospital and died there before they found their identities and our cell phone numbers; we weren’t at home. I can’t remember my reaction. I was crying and screaming and asking questions and I was sure this was a dream, one of those that when you wake up you’re relieved because it was just a dream. I kept asking, “is this happening is this happening is this really happening?” It was happening. I lost everything. I kept projecting the image of me sitting on the couch with both of them. This image was stuck in my head for hours of crying. I was sitting on the floor crying for more than an hour. My friend’s mum picked me up, put me on the bed gave me a pill to sleep. I don’t have a mum anymore. I don’t have a dad anymore. I lost everything. I will never talk to my dad or to my mum ever again. Ever again. I don’t think there will be a day in the future when I will say those words and not cry. It is impossible to say those words and not cry. The last time I talked to them I hung up in a rush to do something stupid. I want my mum and my dad back and I can’t have them. Now it’s like I don’t have answers or solutions to any of my problems. My sister has the unfair role of dealing with the money stuff, the funeral stuff, the house stuff. Me, I’m just crying. I quit university, I quit life, sometimes I answer the phone calls from my friends but I don’t feel like going out, I just hang out with them inside and sometimes I cry. They are all careful of what to say around me and I hate that, but if they didn’t I would hate them more. I look at other people and I am sure they are and will be happier than me. I find everything completely pointless. Shop windows, or the internet, or people in general. I find everything unsafe. I feel like something will happen to me and I won’t have money to deal with it. I feel like I’m poor and alone and more grown-up than I want to be because I don’t have a grown- up looking after me.  How do you move on after this? How do you look at other people in a nice way? How is it possible to listen to other people and actually listen to them without a big cloud of sadness covering everything? No doctor can give me the answer. No relative, no friend, no movie, no pill. The pain is not mental. I feel physical pain in my stomach. I want people to pity me and give attention to my misery. I want people to treat this as the most important thing in the world and give me answers and be my parents. Chances are I run onto something that will remind me of my parents because everyone has parents, or wears Chanel perfume like my mum.

I don’t even know why I’m writing this because I can’t write a conclusion or give a tip on how to get over something like this. I just have to say that I will demand my misery to be noticed as if I broke both my legs and hands, and if someone feels such pain that makes them numb they should do the same until they feel ok.

Thanks for listening,