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Friday, May 24, 2024

‘That’s Not My Name,’ Celebrities, and When a Meme Is Over

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Memes, they say, are dead as soon as celebrities use them to appear on-trend. Yes, this is a wild overstatement. No, no one really knows who “they” are in this scenario, probably just the internet. But it’s an unspoken rule that once something makes the jump from internet culture to celeb culture, it’s on its way out. Or, as Vulture noted this week, “right now, the traditional operations of fame are failing stars” and they're jumping on viral trends to up their clout. This is perfectly fine, but it can also feel like watching someone very publicly flail through your favorite karaoke song. You know, the one you nail every time. 

The topic, this time around, is the “That’s Not My Name” meme that recently took off on TikTok. The premise is simple: Over The Ting Ting’s 2008 track “That’s Not My Name,” people post images of themselves (or others) acting out the alter egos that have garnered them nicknames. (Full disclosure: I discovered this on Cat TikTok, where people were posting images of their felines doing the random shit that gets them called something other than Floofy, or whatever. The fact that this dominated my FYP for a week probably says more about me than the meme itself. Moving on.) As interpreted by Drew Barrymore and Christina Aguilera, however, the meme became a way to list off their IMDb page or musical discography. It was cute, but maybe one or two steps removed from the trend’s intended purpose. Even if it is fun to remember Barrymore as the Firestarter.

Celebrities hopping on social media trends is not new, or news. It’s been happening since what feels like the dawn of time—although it’s probably more like 2012. Sometimes the results are brilliant, sometimes they’re bad, but almost always, they miss the point. They circumvent the cycle of virality. The best memes involving stars are the ones they had no hand in. It’s someone posting a Legally Blonde reaction GIF, not Reese Witherspoon reminding you on TikTok that she plays Elle Woods. When celebrities make their own memes, it’s like the simulation has become self-aware. It’s fun, but the effect is not unlike watching Encanto and wondering if all those dances made it into the film because Disney hoped they’d go viral. The internet is like a vegan restaurant; things need to be organic.

But does this mean “That’s Not My Name” is over? Eh … that’s harder to surmise. Chances are, people will move on to other interests, and other trends, because something new is always going viral. But that doesn’t mean the meme can’t be reclaimed. Once celebrities have cashed in on their millions of views, the meme could go right back to the proud parents and cat dads that made it popular in the first place. And honestly, it should. The internet is often quick to leave something behind once it’s gone too far, but sometimes a meme, even if it’s not “That’s Not My Name," might deserve to be preserved beyond the celebrity corruption phase. Not doing so would give too much power to those who already have enough.

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