Me. Me. Meme.
By Moti Black
I stumble into the bathroom, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I drop my hands down heavily on the basin and stare at my face in the mirror.
I never used to look at myself in the mirror. I don’t have that kind of face. I used to tell myself that it was okay that my appearance was jarring, because I had personality. I was a character. But then the way I looked made me famous, and now I have to stare into my bulging eyes every day, meticulously maintain the product everyone is using to sell the latest trend, to laugh, to entertain, to click. Click. Click. CLICK.
#ShyBookGirl loved me before all the craziness. #ShyBookGirl loved my character. Now she is gone, and here am I drawing lines over myself to please the masses.
And I am rich. I am so goddamn rich. With lines as faded as my soul.
I yawn deeply and shake my head.
I pick up the eraser and clean my face. Then I use the ink pen to bring my brand back into line. The ink goes on smooth and even. I didn’t always have such good pens; when I let myself get run down, I can see the wobbly biro lines of my birth, the jumping, staccato lines, the place on my right arm where the ink stopped flowing and my creator dug the nib in and scribbled until a blotchy line joined up with my neck. I don’t have eyelashes, but every morning I draw three vertical lines on each upper lid, framing my eyes ready for my trademarked ‘crazy pop’.
I am ready. I look exactly the way I looked yesterday, and I will look like this tomorrow.
I call for a taxi, slip on my large sunglasses, and head down to the street to wait.
As I stand in the street, strangers scream at me.
“Yo! Behbeh! I’m BORED!”
“Go crazy for us, bitch!”
Cameras flash in my face, and I stare at my phone as the crowd gathers.
I check my Me.Me. profile. The platform rates all its users according to their popularity. I have climbed to 4,567/253,467,679. Not quite the target my manager had set for me, but close enough that she’ll be happy. I am still the highest performing two-dimensional meme on the platform, and that is the reason I will be appearing on national TV tonight, which will no doubt push me into the top 4,000.
I click on #ShyBookGirl’s profile. She has sunk to 237,468,356. I feel sad for her, even though all her posts these days are bitter tirades aimed at me.
The taxi arrives and takes me to my first appointment of the day: a photoshoot for my latest meme. I lost editorial control when I signed my contract, so I don’t even know the content yet. ‘It’s just less work for more zeros.’ I tell myself. But I feel my artistic integrity has dissipated into the ether.
It started as a simple four box cartoon satirising internet trends, with me sitting at my computer scrolling through posts, passing three similar posts, saying ‘Bored’, ‘Bored’, ‘Bored’, before hitting a fourth option which is pretty much the same as the first three, and saying ‘CRAZY, whilst putting on my super enthusiastic face where I pop my eyes into their wonky bulging position, my hair stands out from my head, and I open my mouth and drool.
Somehow this has morphed into brands and celebrities hiring me to highlight how they are subtly different from the milieu and worth going crazy over. I find it highly ironic, and I can imagine #ShyBookGirl and I rolling about on the floor guffawing at the absurdity. But she hasn’t answered a DM from me since I overtook her in the Me.Me. ratings.
I strut down the corridors towards the studio. My assistant catches up with me and hands me my caramel mochaccino in my branded reusable to-go cup.
My manager, Margot, trots up, takes my drink from me and removes my sunglasses, before rubbing an eraser over my face. “So today, darling, we are looking at the dresses from last night’s award ceremony. I thought to give the meme a bit of class, you could wear this custom-made cloudburst blue.” She hands me a marker pen.
I sigh and head off to the toilets to colour in my dress, feeling the complete drudgery of my life pressing in on me. I don’t care about fashion. I don’t want to promote some three-dimensional human’s dress. I wear marker pen for crying out loud. But for half an hour of my time and four words, I will earn more than a lot of people in this country will earn in a year.
I come out of the toilets, give my agent a twirl, sit down at the computer, carefully envisage the font I want to use, and project my catchphrase into the air: “Bored. Bored. Bored. CRAZY!” As my eyes pop and the drool drips down my chin, the photographer snaps away, and the staff in the studio cheer, clap, and stamp their feet.
“That was fantastic, Stella.” Margot says, cleaning up my chin where the drool has made the ink run. “But, can we try it again with a little less sarcasm in your voice?”
“How are they going to hear my tone in a photograph?” I snap, but like a good little meme, I run through the pathetic charade once more.
The photographer loads the images up on his computer, and he and Margot hover over the screen for a few minutes before picking the images they will use for tonight’s viral (stealth-promoted) meme.
I stand up, grab my caramel mochaccino from my assistant, and head towards the lift.
“Before you go, Stella.” Margot calls out to me.
I stop and slowly turn back around.
“I know you said you didn’t want to do this kind of thing, but piggles pork sausages have asked us to do an advert for them. All you need to do is bite three of the competition sausages, throw them over your shoulder whilst saying ‘bored’, then bite a piggles sausage and go crazy.”
“No! No! No! I said no outright advertising. And I’m a vegan, I can’t eat four sausages.”
“It doesn’t have to be a real piggles, we can get some vegan alternative, and put it in a piggles packet.”
“Seriously? You want me to be filmed saying people should buy something I would never eat and have no idea about the quality? You don’t find that an ethical problem?”
“When they are talking mid-six-figures, I don’t think it matters: just say the line, suck the sausage, take the cash.”
“And you can live like this?” I say, waving my stick arms around the studio. “You are happy that this is your life?”
Margot stepped back and looked at me through narrowed eyes. She shook her head and muttered, “Fucking 2Ds.” under her breath, before coming to stand right in front of me and saying:
“I made you. You have no real talent. Yes, you were very careful with the wording of your contract so you could wiggle out of assignments you thought would damage your brand, but there are ways around that, and unless you have the money to buy yourself out of your contract, I advise you to do as you are told and laugh all the way to the bank with your crazy freakazoid eyes. Remember, in the three-dimensional world, things are always more complicated than your little flat brain can comprehend.”
“It’s my body that’s flat, not my fucking brain.” I said storming to the lift and sliding through the closing doors before Margot could say another word.
All the way down, I thought about where this had all started, about the lazy afternoons lying in bed with #ShyBookGirl, running my chunky fingers over her delicate lines. She had a much better lineage than me: she was all tonal shading and careful criss-cross hatching. I loved the way her hair had that line of paler ink to make it shine, and the little breve under her eyes, giving her cheeks those adorable dimples.
We’d blow off Modern Communication for the Internet Age lectures and hang out in her bedroom analysing the latest viral memes, trying to work out a formula to catapult her to fame and fortune. I painted a mural of a library on her bedroom wall, monochrome like #ShyBookGirl, and used my phone to photograph her performing bookish memes she had written the night before.
She gained a small following, but nothing ever did that well because she over thought every idea. Her posts required a thorough knowledge of the books to get the joke, and even when she managed to keep it simple, she’d run into seven or more frames.
I was never keen on being on the other side of the camera, but to try and show her that simple sells, I came up with the stupid ‘Bored. Bored. Bored. CRAZY!’ Meme.
She photographed me by a plain white wall, we edited it, and hit send on my first Me.Me. post. Then we fell into bed, giggling.
When we surfaced an hour later, I had already gone viral. #ShyBookGirl screamed for joy. I still remember her cheeks burning up with excitement and emitting the most beautiful pink under all her layers of grey.
We tried simple #ShyBookGirl memes, where she dressed as a pop-up book and jumped out at unsuspecting students in the university library. They did better, but each day I rose through the Me.Me. ranks, and even though she had seven years of stats on me, within three weeks I overtook her.
That was the day she took a swing at me with her book bag. I was with the pencil surgeon for hours to get the kink taken out of my leg.
She’s refused to see me since.
I slip through the 2D entrance at the TV studios, and somehow my assistant is already waiting for me with another caramel mochaccino. To be honest, I have no idea who hired him, but he is at all my appointments, following me around, making sure I never miss anything, and the assortment of pens that lad has in his man-bag is phenomenal. I feel bad that I don’t know his name, but I can’t realistically ask him what he’s called after working with him for over a year.
He scuttles after me as I stride down the corridor. “You’re going to be on straight after #InappropriatePartyGirl. She ranks in the top 2000 on Me.Me. and only joined last month.”
“I know who she is.” I snap, nerves starting to get the better of me.
#InappropriatePartyGirl shot to fame out of nowhere by simply wearing a shocking red dress, drinking cocktails, and partying in very drab and inappropriate places. She started out in a Classics lecture, and since then has turned up in the same outfit and pose in almost every place she shouldn’t be, from court houses to funerals. It’s a simple formula, helped by the fact that she is three-dimensional, very good looking, with a chest that barely fits inside her shiny red dress. Also, there are rumours that money exchanged hands to tweak her stats.
I go to makeup, where the colour of my dress is changed from cloudburst blue to #InappropriateRed, and my eyelashes are drawn on with a slightly shinier and thicker ink. A layer of paper balm is applied over me to make the paper shine brighter.
I watch the end of #InappropriatePartyGirl’s interview, and then it is time for my big TV debut.
Stan, the host, looks into camera one. “You’ve seen her as you scroll over breakfast, you’ve pasted your ex’s face into her bored box, and I don’t want to know what you have put in her crazy box. You all know her, please give a warm welcome to #BehbehCraze!”
The studio audience claps, and I walk out, waving at them with the circle and four lines that form my hand. There will be two questions, then I am to pull my crazy face. This should be easy.
I sit on the sofa next to #InappropriatePartyGirl, who raises her glass to welcome me. I try not to look in the direction of her chest, and smile at Stan.
“So, #BehbehCraze, where did you get your name?”
“Well, Stan, as you know my meme goes, ‘Bored. Bored. Bored. CRAZY!’” A cheer ripples through the audience. “So, ‘Bored. Bored. Bored’. Reduced to ‘BBB’. Then I dropped a B, well, I’m no Apiarist…” I pause for a laugh, but clearly no one in the audience is a fan of bees, so I continue, although my confidence has been a bit shaken. “And voilà, Beh Beh Craze.”
There was a polite applause.
“I never knew that. That’s fascinating.” Stan said. “So where did you get the idea for your meme?”
Margot had written this answer, and instructed me that under no circumstance was I ever allowed to say ‘I was making fun of the lameness of half the stuff that goes viral and is admired by the mindless drones’
I smile my public smile at Stan and reply. “In this modern age, there are so many people and products vying for our attention, and everything’s kind of the same. Then, every once in a while, something comes along with that subtle difference which makes us go crazy. Take you, Stan.”
Stan pulls a fake nervous expression, knowing full well what was about to happen.
There are hosts. There’s this host. ‘Boring’. There’s that host. ‘Boring.’ There’s another host, ‘Boring.’ And then there is you.” I pause. I can feel the audience’s excitement, and I hold on to it a moment longer.
And then I pop my eyes, and project the text into the air. “CRAZY!”
I get a standing ovation for that.
People are really as stupid as they have ever been in history.
After the audience calms down. Stan introduces a band, and whilst they are performing, #InappropriatePartyGirl and I are led off set.
As we walk down the corridor, I send a DM to #ShyBookGirl. “OMG just been on TV. I am not cut out for this shit. I really wish you were here with me.”
Our escort leaves us by a large Swiss Cheese Plant.
“Hey, Behbeh.” #InappropriatePartyGirl says.
“Oh. Call me Stella.”
“Enchanté, Stella. You can call me Nicky.”
“Nice to meet you.” I swallow, trying not to let my eyes settle on her cleavage.
She drains the dregs of her cocktail and abandons the glass under a leaf of the Swiss Cheese Plant.
“That shade of red really brings out your eyes.”
“Erm. Thank you. I believe it’s your trademark #InappropriateRed. They just give me the pens; I don’t pick the colours myself.”
She laughs. “Oh, you are so witty. And I loved your beekeeping joke. I knew you had a sharp mind behind all your memes. Before the publicity hounds got their teeth into you.”
She looks at me, then reaches out and runs her three-dimensional hand through my spiky ink-line hair.
“How about we shake off our handlers and do some insider trading, lady. You and me. Restaurant. Tonight. A date. A few cocktails. A little real connection. Leave the hashtags and brand parameters at home.”
I stare at her. This superstar wants to go on a date with… me? I feel my mouth hanging open and the drool starting to dampen the paper around my mouth, so quickly wipe my face and nod. Afterall, #ShyBookGirl doesn’t want me, and I am a super-rich meme in the Screen-City. Why can’t I party with #InappropriatePartyGirl?
“Why not?” I say and smile the most beguiling smile I can manage, trying my best to stop my eyes bulging.
“See you at seven.” She says, sashaying away and waving at her fans as she walks out of the main door.
I sit down at the table and order a margarita. Nicky is running late, so I use the time to catch up with the latest meme trends on my phone. A frog who is supposed to look like a famous actor has gone viral but I either don’t know the actor, or the likeness is poor.
Out of habit I visit #ShyBookGirl’s profile. She hasn’t posted anything today.
I fidget with my dress. I used two of my best marker pens on it. The kind that smell a bit too much of solvent, and leave you feeling light headed and indulgent.
I feel self-conscious and notice that I am getting a few looks from the other patrons of the restaurant. This is a high-end influencer restaurant, so I think the looks are more to do with the fact that I am a 2D than because they recognise me from my memes, as everyone here has been in a meme in one form or another, and I am the only one of my kind here.
I order another margarita.
Nicky finally arrives, looking as stunning as ever. I lick my lips too much as I stand to greet her. What am I even thinking? I’m not some kind of purist prude who frowns on the mixing of the 2D and the 3D, but it’s not something I ever thought I would be doing. To be honest, I’ve only ever been close to #ShyBookGirl, and at the time, I thought she was my eternity.
And who wouldn’t be drawn to #InappropriatePartyGirl. Nicky. I mean, Nicky.
“You look stunning.” I manage to say.
“As do you. I love the lines you created on your dress.” She says, letting me hold her chair for her as she sits down.
She clicks her fingers, and a cosmopolitan shimmering with gold is instantly brought to our table.
“So, Stella.” She says, picking a slice of orange out of her glass and slowly sucking on it. “Did you always know you wanted to be a meme?”
“Oh no! It was the last thing I thought I would do. I always wanted to be a kind of behind-the-scenes gal. Maybe do political pieces, or write a column.”
A waiter approaches. Nicky smiles at me, “The vegan tasting menu?”
“You know I’m vegan?”
“I do my research.”
The waiter nods and leaves.
“What about you? Did you want to be a meme when you were growing up?”
“It was an inevitability.” She says. “Call it fate, call it intuition, I just have a knack for the limelight.” She winks over my shoulder and a flash goes off.
“Well, you certainly do.” I stammer, finishing my margarita, which is replaced before I manage to put the glass down on the table.
Two small bowls of soup and a basket of artisan bread arrive on the table.
I pick out a nice looking piece of cornbread and dip it into the soup.
“But you.” Nicky says, taking a sip of her cosmopolitan, leaving a golden sheen on her lips. “I can’t believe you didn’t know all your life that being a meme was your calling.”
She dips her finger in her drink and draws a shimmering line across her chest.
“You so have the knack for it.” She licks her lips. “Go on. For me.”
“I… I… I don’t usually.”
“For me.” She says in a sultry tone.
I take a deep breath. I hate this. I feel cornered. But it is who I am.
I pick out a piece of white bread from the basket and throw it over my shoulder.
I pick the piece of lime out of my margarita and throw it over my shoulder.
I pick up the serviette and throw it over my shoulder.
I look into Nicky’s face and swallow.
“CRAZY!” And then I pop my eyes.
All of a sudden, she stands up and thrusts her chest in my face. A flash goes off. I’m startled, and my left eye falls into the soup.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” I scream, as I fish it out and dunk it in the jug of water before sticking it back in my face.
“Thanks shug. I got what I needed.” She high fives the paparazzi as she walks out of the restaurant in her tight red dress and black stilettos.
I slump back in my chair, down the rest of my margarita, and signal the waiter for the bill.
I’m a 2D fool, and everyone is laughing at me. And how can I blame them? I created #BehbehCraze, I can’t complain that people treat me as a disposable meme.
In the morning I wake up with a raging hangover. I reach for my phone. My ratings have shot up, but also trending was #BehbehCrazySexPest
I open a browser and I’m hit in the face with films and photos of the incident edited together to make me look like a lecherous fool. Nicky even had a disgusted look on her face as I shoved my head into her cleavage.
Headlines such as Byebye Behbeh, The Craze that Crashed, and Today’s Two-D, Tomorrow’s Trash, swim in front of my eyes. I hit Me.Me. to see the reactions and see thousands of posts from people I have never met, claiming I drooled on them and always made them feel uncomfortable. That is except #ShyBookGirl who had posted a video of herself saying that she knew me better than anyone in the world and that there was no way I was a sex pest.
My phone pings with an email from my manager’s assistant cancelling my contract. I no longer need to buy myself out of the contract, but due to ‘questionable character flaws’ they escaped the termination fee.
And with that, #BehbehCraze was dead.
I turn my phone off and drop it on the floor. I have no appointments; I have no obligations. I can’t leave my flat, as everywhere I go from now on, I will be treated like some kind of letch, but I am back in control of my life.
I exfoliate, I erase, I apply high-end paper balm, until the small figure standing in the corner of the oversized mirror looks something like my old self.
And the rest of the day is mine. I walk along my bookcases. Over the last year, I kept binge buying books, but never had the time to read any, so the shelves are overflowing with so many exciting unopened adventures.
I pick one at random and throw myself onto my settee to leisurely enjoy my first day of pariah status. Who needs the stupid world, anyway?
A few hours later, just as the mother was chasing the naughty mice with a broom, there’s a quiet knock at my door.
There is only one person in the world the doorman is allowed to let up without buzzing, even though she has never taken me up on the invitation. But I also know the paparazzi can be very sneaky, so I opened the door very carefully.
And there she is, in all her glorious shades of grey.
She starts crying. “Can you ever forgive me?”
I pull her into my stick figure arms, and we both ball our eyes out, until our ink is mingling. “There’s nothing to forgive.” I say, as we head into the flat.
“But there is!” She protests. “I know you would have absolutely hated that attention, and all I could do was be jealous of you. I should have been at your side the whole time.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere for a while, and I have a few books to keep me busy. Care to join me in a reading marathon?”
She giggles, picks three books from the shelf and throws herself onto the settee. “Do books have pages?”
And we read happily ever after.
© Copyright Moti Black