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First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Memes aren’t meant to be comfy or sweet. I hope they cause laughter, but they are not above doing it at the expense of others. I understand all of this. And yet, I have to say, all those Bill and Melinda Gates divorce memes freak me out.
For those who haven’t seen them, memes take on several different flavors: Some actors Microsoft co-founder like a rich, newly single man looking for love. Some riffs on the idea that single, less wealthy women might be looking for him. Still others make a sort of comparison to Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ divorce. They’re all fine, I guess. Most of them make you laugh, even if the childish puns on “Microsoft” are therefore 1995. It’s not about overwhelming Twitter with excitement. Rather, it’s about leaving him alone.
Bill and Melinda Gates are two very wealthy people who have a lot of important things to do. The chances that they’ll see these memes let alone hurt their buttocks about them are slim to zero. But that’s what makes it so awkward. Although deeply rooted in technology, it is not a couple that very online. If a Kardashian is going through a breakup, of course, it’s okay for the internet to react to one of their relationship issues. The Gates, however, primarily use all that tech money for philanthropy. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation devotes millions to eradicating disease and tackling economic inequality. They aren’t splashy celebrities, and treating them like such just just feels bad.
It also sounds vaguely dangerous. One of the most popular memes since the couple announced its split on Monday shows Bill Gates in front of a computer and photos of several women touching vaccine injection sites on their shoulders. the subtitling shows Gates looking for “single women vaccinated in my area”. It would be funny if it weren’t for a riff on the conspiracy theory that Gates’ Covid-19 vaccination efforts were a ploy to implant people with microchips. Yes, some ridiculous conspiracies should be exposed, but the Gates divorce already has QAnon adherents create new ideasand the reluctance to immunize fueled by misinformation is a huge problem. Read the play.
Maybe I’m taking this too seriously – they’re just memes! – but if the last half-decade has taught us anything, it’s that memes can be very powerful. They can make people laugh, but they can also influence public opinion, soften toxic ideas and allow them to spread. I also laughed at the meme on Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos run together. But honestly, folks, we can do better.
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