The massive boat caught within the Suez Canal, Oprah waving off Meghan and Harry along with her “Cease it” arms, all of the Teletubbies boinking each other blue because the solar child watches approvingly, a photograph bashing trans athletes shared by Donald Trump Jr. These memes are unified not solely in encapsulating the lunacy of 2021, however within the 4 phrases which have constantly appeared beside them and numerous others, in captions in addition to feedback: “The web stays undefeated.”
Certainly you’ve seen these phrases, however possibly you haven’t learn them. (Congratulations in your sanity.) An apolitical, amoral stand-in equally for lol, fuck you, and thanks, used for each schadenfreude and firgun, “The web stays undefeated” is the web of phrases concerning the web, current all over the place and nowhere, which means all the things and nothing. A seemingly benign expression—till you say it again.
The web stays undefeated. The web stays undefeated. The web stays undefeated.
The extra I encounter these phrases, the extra they pierce me with mortal dread. It’s not simply the rotten onion of their ambiguity: When did the web’s successful streak start? What, or who, is it undefeated towards? Ourselves, possibly. However then why are so many people so jubilant about reminding ourselves that we’ve defeated ourselves? And what would, might, ought to defeating the web appear to be? However my disdain for the saying can be due to its underlying sentiment. The true terror of “The web stays undefeated” is that it’s most frequently utilized in lighthearted contexts, but exposes the deepest darkness of our lives on-line, a darkness that we’ve change into both blind to or numb to.
Searches on the time period “undefeated web” recommend that the oldest extant utilization of the ghastly phrase may belong to Timothy Corridor (@peoplescrtic), a movie critic and meme lord from Seattle. On the morning of August 12, 2013, he posted on Instagram a meme of a scowling Russell Westbrook, the mercurial NBA dynamo, photoshopped into a personality choice display from the arcade basic Mortal Fight, with the caption, “The web stays undefeated.” It’s a textbook utilization, the type Corridor says he’s been deploying on social media and in group chats within the years since. To him, the saying epitomizes the web because the world’s nice equalizer. “You may be POTUS,” he says, “otherwise you is usually a soccer mother yelling at a sport, not realizing you’re being filmed. Everyone seems to be truthful sport to change into a meme. Perhaps it’s POTUS who makes you right into a meme, or possibly it’s my 14-year-old nephew. You might not comprehend it’s your day, you simply must trip the wave and let the web defeat you till it’s another person’s flip.”
However Corridor can’t take credit score for coining the phrase; he says he should’ve picked it up from somebody on the web alongside the best way. “If somebody ever claimed to have invented it,” he provides, “the web would defeat them. That’s the fantastic thing about it.”
To a wide-ranging group of social media customers like Corridor, “the web stays undefeated” is, on its face, a easy expression of pleasure, or nostalgia for a extra joyous period of the web. Ryan Milner, a professor of web tradition on the School of Charleston and creator of The World Made Meme, says the phrase harkens again to a time between roughly 2003 and 2013, when the web was “nonetheless sort of this different place that didn’t function by and will possibly transcend real-world guidelines.” This was the heyday of early YouTube and message boards like One thing Terrible, 4chan, and Reddit, “whenever you noticed a flurry of subcultural exercise and content material creation that turned sort of a tone setter for people who find themselves nonetheless extraordinarily on-line.” So in 2021, folks remark “The web stays undefeated” to a flourishing of memes about Bernie Sanders and his mittens or the discord between your fall plans and the Delta variant, as a result of it recollects when life on-line appeared much less about livestreamed mass murders and the algorithmically pushed dying of democracy and extra about rickrolling and lolcats. On the floor stage, says Milner, the phrase “is a approach to sort of admire when the early spirit of collective creativity on-line resurfaces.”