Is 2020 the Most Depressing Year for Memes Ever?

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If there’s a single theme that defines the state of memes in 2020, it’s depression.

That might not come as a huge surprise considering everything this year has thrown at us. From a global pandemic, tragic losses of life, rioting in the streets and a whole lot of other political turmoil, there’s something looming at every corner. In the modern era, social media platforms serve as the ultimate venting space for collective emotions, so naturally memes have asserted themselves as one of the primary mediums to share these feelings about the state of the world. The meme economy is always swayed by human emotion, it’s just unfortunate that the dominant one right now seems to be sadness.

Some of the most popular memes of the year describe three primary feelings: The desire to go back, the fear of moving forward and the need to escape. These memes highlight why this might be the most depressing year in meme history thus far.

Returning to the Past

In the last few months we’ve seen a major rise in memes like Return to Monke, which make an ironic call for humans to return to their ape ancestor roots. These memes paint behaviors like swinging from vines, exploring the jungle and living without a care in the world (like the apes) in a positive light. They represent the ultimate backpedal and escape from modern life. The fact that these memes are so popular gives us a peek into the current mindset of meme lovers right now. Monke-posters weren’t born in the wrong generation, they were born in the wrong state of evolution, and they want to go back.


The You’re Finally Awake meme is a POV format placing the viewer in the role of someone waking up from a prolonged period of unconsciousness, having just dreamed the catastrophic events of 2020. The first instance was a Return to Monke meme, depicting an ape waking from a concussion. From there, it’s evolved and explored numerous nostalgic avenues, from waking up back in 2010 as an emo kid going to a My Chemical Romance show, to waking up as the lead character in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind about to start their journey. The starting point for all this — Reject Modernity, Embrace Tradition — can’t be ignored, either.


In stark contrast are the What If It All Was Just a Dream memes, which depict famous cultural phenomenon and viral images missing key elements. These memes can produce an overwhelming feeling of sadness to them, making the viewer imagine a world without their favorite memes. The nostalgic quality makes us miss the memes of the past, and want for more lighthearted memes free of commentary on today’s worldly events.

What if it was all just a dream? Green Nature Atmospheric phenomenon Leaf Painting Grass

Even memes like Men With a Time Machine show a want to go back and change things for the better. It’s no coincidence this meme popped up in 2020 and it solidifies just how much of our mind is consumed by this want to return to simpler times.

The Fear of the Future

With everyone wanting to go back in time, it also makes sense to prevent time from moving forward.

There are plenty of examples of this to go around. There’s the 2020 Can’t Get Any Worse meme, featuring the title caption and an accompanying image of some horrible disaster or invasion. There are calendar memes that do the same thing, like the Reese Witherspoon Challenge, depicting an individual’s growing feelings of stress over the coming months. The Monsters Inc. meme Alright, July, Let’s See What You Got has a more positive tone, but still relies on the same feeling of dread as the others, assuming 2020 will continue to be terrible.

me: 2020 sucks it possibly can't get worse april: Sky Atmospheric phenomenon Lane Road Mode of transport Cloud Infrastructure

Closely connected to these are That’s Another One For Apocalypse Bingo memes, which depicts tragic and bizarre stories from this year paired with the phrase. These apply the same negative expectations to the current state of the world as other memes in this category. They show how low the bar is set, and how we’ve had no choice but to accept it with a forced grin.

The Desire to Escape

Andy Milonakis summed up the collective feeling of the world this year back in May when he wrote what’s now the #4 most-liked tweet of all time, reading: “Congratulations to the astronauts that left earth today. Good choice.”

Andy Milonaki @andymilonakis Congratulations to the Astronauts that left Earth today. Good choice 3:57 PM - May 30, 2020 · Twitter Web App 795.5K Retweets 20.3K Quote Tweets 3.8M Likes Text Product Font

The speed at which Milonakis’ tweet hit #3 most liked in the world (it’s now #4, as a memorial tweet for Chadwick Boseman is now #1) is at first amazing to think about. When you go past the surface of it, though, it ultimately becomes depressing.

Three million Twitter users (and millions of additional people who liked screenshots of the tweet on meme pages) decided on that day that they’d rather leave earth than stick around for another minute. Yes, it’s an ironic post. So are most of the memes in the other categories. You know what they say, though: there’s a hint of truth in every joke. If you apply that same logic to all the most depressing memes of 2020, you’ll better understand why this is one of the most depressing years for memes.

Women with a time machine Really? I am your granddaughter Men with a time machine Cartoon Head Jaw

Pushing Through the Bubble

Sadness has always been a hot topic in memes, and we’ve made it through depressing meme bubbles before. 2016 was a particularly notable one thanks to election drama, Pepe’s downfall, Sad Papaw and the tragic death of Harambe. Thankfully, the way through a sad meme bubble is pretty easy: keep making memes.

There’s comfort to be found in seeing just how many people share the same feelings of hopelessness and sadness as you. Memes are the ultimate way to relate on the web. They offer a comforting laugh in hard times, even if the subject matter is ultimately depression layered in irony. Things may seem bleak now, but we’re all in it together, and the memes of 2020 prove it.


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