“I know I’m Not the Only One” : How Black Panther and Meme Culture Taught Me About Individuality

Am I the only one who [insert typically unoriginal idea here]?

No, you are not. The fact that you even ask this question shows how unoriginal you are. Ironically, we typically ask this question because we are looking for confirmation that someone else agrees with us. In fact, agreement on certain topics often becomes the seed that blossoms into friendship. However, this question is not an invitation. We don’t ask “Does anyone else _______?” Instead we emphasize “only,” hoping that the answer is yes.

Yes, you are the only person that puts their cereal in the bowl before the milk. You are an anomaly. An American Hero. The messiah that has been selected to spread your teachings of cereal preparation to others.

We find ourselves constantly hoping that we have stumbled upon some originality in a world that seems to be lacking.

Despite the constant desire to feel interconnected, we tend to take pride in the belief that there is something about ourselves that makes us unique from the herd. After seeing Black Panther, I kept on telling my boyfriend how some scenes reminded me of The Lion King. I didn’t think that it was an astute observation, but I did think that it demonstrated some intellect on my part to make the connection. That is, until I logged onto Twitter and saw a tweet that mirrored my exact observations (to further my point, here are images taken from two different posts on two different sites, neither of them being Twitter):

 

Now, I know what you are thinking, my assigned FBI agent must have relayed the information to the NSA, yet this was not the case. My agent is sleeping on me because I have mentioned several golden gems (that’s right, I am giving you the go ahead) and have yet to seem them blossom into fruition (*cough* plan your own movie ending *cough* {for serious inquiries on this, please contact}). I remember watching Shark Tank and becoming frustrated over the fact that someone stole MY idea for an invention (yet mine would have been more fashion-forward). The idea that was sparked over the need to make walking with my phone and umbrella a little easier. The idea that was ignited because I had a difficulty with just keeping my phone in my pocket as I held my umbrella. The idea that was probably thought of by thousands of others since I am not the only person that has developed an addiction to my phone, so much so that I would rather have my umbrella blow every which way than to keep my phone in my pocket.

200_d

“And I know,  And I know, And I know, And I know, And I know, And I don’t know”

The fact of the matter is, we are not entirely special – despite this mindset being instilled upon us from an early age. We inhabit the same place, engage with the same routines, so we will naturally have the same responses to those interactions. We like to believe that we are all unique. That there is something about us that makes us different – in a good way. That we are all our own little Ruldophs (which is a problem in itself – when we are the ones that are different, it is positive. When others are different, it is often the opposite).

Not everyone is the exact same, but we all possess the same traits and habits, just slightly altered. We are essentially all cut from the same cloth yet the seamstress can develop many different shapes and sizes to fool us into thinking that different patterns exist. Like when you go to Old Navy and see one pattern used for a dress, skirt, shirt, shoes, and bag (don’t worry, I worked there), I am sure that you can talk to any person and discover at least one similarity. Yes, I am aware that this is not a complex concept, but it needs to be said.

 “And so we are all connected in the great circle of life”

– Mufasa

Surprisingly, it was not until recently that I discovered just how mundane my entire life is. This is all thanks to meme culture. Ironically, memes are defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” As nothing in life is truly original (after thousands of years, how can it be?), we develop copies, sometimes exact, others with modifications (interested in this topic? Enroll at Queens College and take a course on Simulacra). The term history repeats itself is less metaphorical than we would like to believe. Although we all possess the same innate desires and instincts, we tend to believe that our experiences are what make us unique. However, memes have proved that this is simply not the case.

When we come across a meme we like, we typically adhere to the three archetypes. (1) We laugh, write “I’m weak *cryface emoji”; (2) “I’m dead *skull*”; or for the more poetic: (3) “MEEE!” The fact that our responses tend to boil down to these three options is telling as well. We find the meme humorous because there is a ring of truth to it. This universality is the basis for comedy. Comedians are storytellers – the only difference is that they report life rather than fantasies. When I was in Atlanta, I watched an Open Mic, and I can easily recall the joke that made me laugh the most. The comedian was referring to the fire drill implemented during elementary school: Stop, Drop, and Roll: “Kids nowadays, they don’t practice that shit! In the 90’s catching on fire was such a problem that we had to invent a whole system for it, but today, kids have discovered that all they have to do is not catch on fire.” The audience responded well, but would the same response be present if the joke was repeated to a newer generation that never had to roll around putting out imaginary fires? Or if the audience were home-schooled and they practiced changing the batteries for the fire detector?

This leads us back to meme culture. We reblog, repost, retweet, or share because part of us is excited that there is a community of others like us. A tiny part of us feels slighted, maybe even robbed: You mean other people did this as well? What does that mean about me?

individualitySuddenly, that one experience that tokened our individuality is revoked. As much as we want to feel like we are part of the collective, there is another part of us that wants to be the one happy yellow smiley-face in a sea of unhappy blue (if you can immediately recall the image, my point is proven once again). We want to be like everyone else, but we also want to be the one in the group that is slightly (only in a good way) different.

And that is just it. We are so fixated on differences that acknowledging similarities seems like a removal of self. We can only identify ourselves through the existence of an other. We feel like we have been robbed when we should really feel like we have gained. Yes, you may be special – but so is everyone else.  It may seem like I am contradicting myself since earlier I stated that we are not entirely special – so let me clarify, we are not entirely, but partly. Special can be defined as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” We are not better or greater than others, but we are different from what is usual since normalcy is a myth. Why then does acknowledging others as special makes us feel less than? It is only this notion of uniqueness that we feel is reduced once more is identified. A rose is still a rose despite being packed with eleven others.

Perhaps it is best that we are not entirely different from everyone else. To go back to Ruldolph – yes he was different, and he was a hero, but he “wasn’t allowed to join any reindeer games” until he proved that his differences made him valuable. The truth of the matter is, in a society that praises individuality, we simultaneously frown upon it. We only like differences once they are shown to be practical, and once that happens, we replicate those differences until they seemingly lose their practicality. Constantly replacing the Mufasas with Simbas, until they are one in the same (have you seen Simba grown up next to his father?)

 

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