The Week in Culture #02

Lore Oxford

The internet is full of content that can make us laugh, freak us out and fill us with hope for the human race. But it’s more than just trolls and lols. If you know what to look for, memes, tweets and everything in between can serve as an early warning system for cultural and behavioural shifts. Every other week, we’ll be highlighting a few you might’ve missed.

This week, among other things, we’re exploring influencer weddings, Millennial icons and the importance of a great caption.

Marzia and PewDiePie’s wedding blurs the line between influencer and celebrity
Marzia Bisognin is an Italian fashion influencer and entrepreneur. Felix Kjellberg – better known by his YouTube handle, PewDiePie – is a gaming vlogger, and YouTube’s most followed creator. Both found fame on YouTube in the early 2010s, and their combined followings have tracked their romance since 2011. On Monday, they got married:

In response, from their followings, there were a lot of posts like this:

This Tweet perfectly embodies what Bisognin and Kjellberg’s original fans felt when they made their vows. They grew up with these personalities; they’ve seen the relationship evolve over time. But it also highlights the disparity between how they found fame, and where they are now.

On the one hand, this cluster of lo-fi screenshots perfectly encapsulates the intimacy and authenticity that drew people to the couple on YouTube. In contrast, the combined fame and wealth of the couple likens their wedding to one of international celebrities. Reporting was a cocktail of illustrated Instagram tributes and tweets, and articles published by The Mirror, The Sun and The Daily Mail. It’s evidence of the fact that the most successful influencers are destined to become part of the fabric of mass popular culture.

TL;DR: The most successful original influencers have evolved beyond the low-fi authenticity that once defined them, but they remain influential all the same.

Spongebob character Squidward is the ultimate millennial icon
Kids’ TV characters have become fixtures in memes shared and reposted by people who are way older than these shows’ target demographics. Whether Peppa Pig, Spongebob Square Pants or the scrunched-up fist/paw from ‘90s cartoon Arthur, imagery made for the under-10 set is regularly paired with sentiments from 20- and 30-somethings. Observe, Exhibit A:

Using Squidward (Spongebob Squarepants’ grouchy neighbour) as a vehicle to discuss the trials of being a 20- or 30-something makes so much sense. This generation has been confronted with adulthood which – for some, at least – falls short of what they expected or were promised. Buying houses, getting paid; it’s all way harder than we thought it would be. Against this backdrop, there’s a desire to escape the seriousness of the situation by infantilizing it.

Plus, posts like these are relatable on two levels:

  1. They make light of the universally recognisable stresses of becoming an adult.

  2. They use nostalgic cultural properties that are also universally recognisable.

By tapping into a generation’s cultural consciousness on two levels, this generation can find solace in others online, meanwhile escaping the pressures of adulthood.

TL;DR: In response to the pressures of offline life, cartoon characters are used in internet culture as universally relatable symbols of freedom, play and infantile silliness.

‘Bernie x Cardi B’ is a perfect example of borrowed cultural capital
The past 18 months have seen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set a new bar for how politicians can effectively engage with constituents via social platforms. Between Instagram Live feeds that depict her chatting with her following while cooking up chilli, and numerous Twitter clapbacks, she’s expertly won the hearts of digital audiences because her communication style reflects their own; digitally-led, unpolished and interactive.

But AOC is also a 20-something who grew up on these platforms, so it makes sense for her to communicate from them. This isn’t a tactic someone like Bernie Sanders – who’s running in the 2020 elections at the age of 77 – can so seamlessly uptake. But that’s not to say he can’t still participate in conversations on these platforms. Last Thursday, Bernie uploaded this video:

This conversation with Cardi B is an example of how Sanders can maintain visibility on social platforms and engage with digitally-led audiences, without it feeling faux. He lets Cardi lead the interview – a stream of questions she crowdsourced from her own Instagram following – ultimately embedding himself into a world that’s been constructed by Cardi. By letting her take control, he’s able to borrow her cultural equity to appeal to her fans and others like them, without doing anything that feels off-brand or out of character.

TL;DR: Bernie didn’t have to behave like a young person to engage with young people – he just had to have friends in the right places.

#ripchrismoyles is a prank on sloppy sharers
Anyone who opened Twitter in the UK this morning and scanned the trending topics may have been momentarily shocked to see the hashtag #ripchrismoyles. The once-beloved UK radio host is only 45! What could’ve happened?! A quick scan of the related tweets reveals that Moyles isn’t really dead, but actually the subject of one of the oldest forms of internet pranks: the falsified Wikipedia entry.

Rumours of Moyles’ tragic run-in with an aubergine spurred the satirical hashtag – despite the fact Wikipedia has already rectified the edit – and responses across Twitter range from calls of bullshit (‘he’s on the radio right now’) to deepest digital condolences (‘gone too soon’).  

Prank culture has long been prevalent online. But while it’s often observational – watching couples prank each other on YouTube, for example – this is about one person poking fun at the wider population’s habit of sharing before we fact-check. A full 60% of us share articles without reading them. It’s about creating boundaries between different ‘types’ of people online. According to psychologists, pranks are often used to maintain social boundaries between groups – think hazing in fraternities. With this in mind, pranks like this one split those who interact with it into two groups – those who share without thinking, and those who do their research.

TL;DR: Meme culture increasingly uses false information to drive shares and shock people.

@captionthreads provides digital help for digital problems
Since Instagram launched carousel posts back in 2017, swathes of self-care accounts have popped up that use the 10-photo post format to deliver step-by-step information on all kinds of questions that previously would’ve been reserved for friends, siblings, mothers or teen magazines. Think ‘telling your crush you like them’ or ‘exercise motivation’.

But while the universal problems of adolescence continue to burden teens today, there are a few new ones to add to the list. In particular, how to make great content. Which explains this:

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pls be patient with me on posting while i try to figure out how i’m going to manage this account on top of school again. ❤️ Follow @captionthreads for more DM any requests for the future! 🙂 . . . . . . . . . .#captions #squad #rainyday #instacaptions #quotes #captionthreads #friends #bestfriends #squadquotes #threads #captionideas #nichememes #lovequotes #inspirationalquotes #strangerthings #inspirational #vine #deepcaptions #deepquotes #selfcare #selfcarethreads #emmachamberlain #vscogirl #arianagrande #twitterthreads #billieeilish #vsco #shawnmendes #sad #loveyourself

A post shared by captions ☁️ (@captionthreads) on

This is a post from @captionthreads, an account that boasts more than 48k followers, who it exclusively supports in creating better Insta captions (other threads include ‘Group Captions’ and ‘Ariana Grande Captions’). It’s a testament to the fact that making great content isn’t limited to career creators. Over a third (37%) of teens feel pressure to post content that doesn’t just make them look good, but that gets a lot of likes and comments. Against this backdrop, Instagram isn’t just about looking hot or aesthetically pleasing photos – it’s about being funny, smart and culturally engaged. And often, the captions are where that can be communicated.

TL:DR: Teens don’t just feel pressure to look good online, but to be funny, smart and culturally engaged.