Much of the value of a meme lies in its originality; the world wide web is no place for stale memes or overdone jokes. But, in light of a recent discovery, it would appear the brand of humor people associate with memes has been around far longer than anyone would have thought. Meme humor may even predate the internet. This is particularly evident with the discovery of an 18th century version the "distracted boyfriend" meme, which was arguably the most iconic of 2017.
An image of a man holding hands with his presumed girlfriend as he ogles the backside of another woman over his shoulder originated from a stock photo, and grew into a cultural (or at least internet) phenomenon. Naturally, when Twitter got ahold of the pic, it took on a whole new life. The girlfriend came to represent the more responsible of two options, or what someone ~should~ do. The woman being ogled, on the other hand, came to represent a more desirable (even riskier) option.
Perhaps it is not the most feminist meme to begin with, but the whole message changes with the addition of text boxes. Imagine you are the man depicted in the photo. You're constrained by something, and eyeing something more desirable (keep in mind this is not limited to people or relationships). Make more sense? Maybe this example will help clear things up:
This format absolutely EXPLODED on Twitter last year, due in part to its originality and relatable sentiment. How many of you can honestly say you don't do at least one thing in your life purely because it is what you are supposed to do?
Originality is relative, though, as a similar image was recently unearthed by Twitter user @ELXGANZA. The original distracted boyfriend meme appears to be the creation of English artist Joshua Reynolds. in 1761, Reynolds painted a portrait of his friend, an actor named David Garrick, whom he placed between two feminine figures said to represent Comedy and Tragedy.
The painting is currently displayed in the Tate Modern, an art gallery in London. A spokesperson for the museum told Mashable, "The subject was probably Garrick’s own idea: a playful parody of the classical story of Hercules choosing between pleasure and virtue, designed to emphasize Garrick’s versatility." In the piece, the figure representing comedy dons a revealing petal pink dress as she attempts to pull Garrick away from the visibly distressed Tragedy. Another clear parallel between the two is that the women depicted are wearing the same ~general~ colors.
Since Twitter user @ELXGANZA's discovery, users on the platform have reaction exactly hoe you would expect them to: with recreations of the eighteenth century work of art. Many of these allude to archaic predicaments.
A little context for this one: scurvy is a disease that is fairly rare nowadays, but the affliction caused by a severe lack of vitamin C affected many between the 1700's and 1800's. People who lived during this era (particularly pirates, who had limited access to different foods) sought out citrus fruits to prevent scurvy, as citrus contains high levels of the vitamin.
This rework is pretty meta. It is basically saying the Twitter now favors the historical distracted boyfriend meme over the original.
Internet humor is transient; every day there is a new meme or video or tweet going viral that dethrones a previous tweet. In the 24 hours since the historical distracted boyfriend meme was presented to the Twittersphere, it has been retweeted almost 41,000 times, and "liked" more than 130,000 times.
The internet changes constantly, but one think that doesn't change? Men being distracted — that has been going on for hundreds of years.