Just three days ago, Rebecca Greenfield published an article on The Atlantic Wire entitled “Why the ‘S— Girls Say’ Meme Will Never Die.” “With its easily adaptable formula and infinite number of subjects, ‘Shit [Someone] Says’ is an everlasting meme,” she writes, and frankly, it’s hard to disagree. Suddenly it seems that every race, ethnicity, social group, or vaguely defined ultra-specific archetype (have you seen “Shit Morally Confused/Overwhelmed Moms Say“?) has been encapsulated in a snappy, one-to-two minute video that catalogues the catchphrases, expressive noises, awkward facial expressions, and, well, shit, that supposedly characterize these various groups on a daily basis.
Take my past week. In just several days, I’ve been twice asked whether I’ve seen “Shit Radical Queers Say,” once whether I’ve seen “Shit Christians Say to Jews,” and have been directed via casual Facebook browsing to “Shit Persian Girls Say,” “Shit People Say in LA,” “Shit Straight Girls Say to Gay Guys,” and the ever-popular “Shit People From Minnesota Say.” Basically, if you’re even a moderate social media user like me, you’re probably already a veritable expert on the verbal flotsam of everyone else.
What’s most interesting to me, however, is the evolution of the meme itself. For those unfamiliar with its origins, “Shit Girls Say” started as a Twitter feed last April, created by the Toronto-based comedians Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey. The Twitter, which posts a collection of one-liners that supposedly typify “girls,” evolved in December into a YouTube series featuring Sheppard in drag performing a series of vaguely air-headed “girl” moments.
Despite their wild popularity (over four million views of Episode 1 in its first week), the videos struck many, including myself, as vaguely unsettling. The first episode opens with a sequence of girl-Sheppard asking a series of questions. “What’s wrong with my computer?” “Are you near a computer?” “Can you read this and see if it makes sense?” In a comedic trope that now typifies the genre, the one-liners are cut between scenes of Sheppard in various “girl” settings: on the phone, lying on the couch, out with girlfriends. For me, after first watching, I could see something vaguely humorous about pinpointing all the random throw-away lines that populate our world unnoticed, but there was still a sense that the ultimate point of the videos was just… making fun of women. After all, what is really humorous about Sheppard’s girl character? That she asks questions? That she needs things? That she can’t use the computer? As many others pointed out as well, it seemed like Sheppard and Humphrey were painting the same female portrait that had been mocked and consequently dismissed for decades: that of the giggly, incompetent, criminally un-self-aware “girl.”
The internet’s first response to this phenomenon was to expand upon it. Although the title of Sheppard and Humphrey’s videos seemed to suggest a universal girl culture, it was clear from the videos’ content that their subject was really a certain type of girl: white, in her mid-20s to early 30s, probably upper-middle class. Suddenly, thanks to a whole cadre of video-generating folks of all races and ethnicities, we had men in drag playing “Shit Black Girls Say,” “Shit Spanish Girls Say,” “Shit Asian Girls Say,” and a whole host of others. Although clearly diversified, it was, for the most part, the same tropes all over again. Women of all types asking questions, struggling with technology, worrying about their weight, begging boyfriends to go shopping. You get the picture. (That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions: see “Shit Black Guys Say.”)
The meme took a turn, however, with the release of “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” by comedian Franchesca Ramsey. Ramsey’s parody was sharper, more pointed, and seemed to even further illuminate the nebulous nature of the meme’s earlier videos. What’s the point of Ramsey’s “white girl?” Well, she thinks she’s being friendly, but really, she’s racist. What’s the point of “Shit Girls Say”? Um… she’s a girl? The two-episode “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” series spawned a whole new genre of “Shit ______ Say” productions. Suddenly, we had “Shit Straight Girls Say to Gay Guys,” “Shit White Girls Say to Brown Girls” “Shit White Guys Say to Asian Girls” “Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People,” etc, etc. Whereas the original “Shit Girls Say” videos and their many spin-offs were often men lampooning women, these videos were about victims of “friendly prejudice” illuminating that prejudice through humor.
Now, “Shit Girls Say” has reached perhaps the endgame of all internet memes: the silly and the absurd. In addition to the social commentary of “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” and its ilk, we have “Shit Slytherins Say to Gryffindors,” “Shit Liz Lemon Says,” and, the ultimate in self-reflexivity, “Shit People Say about Shit People Say Videos.” A humor piece on Thought Catalog in early January listing “A Comprehensive List of ‘Shit ___ Say’ Videos That Need To Be Made” included “Shit the Chicken Says to the Egg,” “Shit the Twitter Bird Says to the Fail Whale,” “Shit Bills Say to My Bank Account,” “Shit Vladimir Putin Says” and many more. The fact that these pure-fun iterations rest atop layers of debate over discrimination, stereotypes and their relative humor (or lack thereof) represents to me a foundational truth about the nature of the internet. That is, as much as the web may spit out problematic material, and as much as others may productively satirize it, eventually all will devolve into giddy, celebrity-laced frivolity. And that, in fact, may be the ultimate satire in itself.
This piece was also published in Nacht.