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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