CW: mental illness, depression, self-destructive behaviours, trauma
Credit where credit’s due: I didn’t come up with (frankly brilliant) title. The phrase was coined long ago by Instagram users like @manicpixiememegurl and @manicpixiememequeen.
“Manic Pixie Meme Girls” has become my personal nickname for the class of meme-makers who have popped up on Instagram in 2017. Internally, they use the more inclusive title of “Niche Memers” – but the former provides a concise summary of their overall demographic: young, eclectic, hyper-intelligent and (inevitably) neurotic women who have chosen memes as an outlet for their incessantly spiralling thoughts. Common themes of the content they share include mental illness, social pressure, fashion, relationships, feminism, racism, toxic masculinity, and – now that September has come round – back-to-school angst. Common motifs encompass abuse of their psychotropic medication, Lisa Simpson, Lana del Rey, La Croix, and the oft-quoted term “token dude”. The latter is used as shorthand within the community to denote the generic, often misogynistic and over-confident, straight-cis-white-male that, to the artist’s angst, she finds herself falling for.
These niche memes usually follow the same format as ‘layman’ memes – such as starter packs, those of the ‘tag yourself’ variety, and ‘tfw’ reaction images. They can also claim the conception of several new meme formats, such as “get the look” collages of popular fictional characters, where the running gag is the inclusion of obscenely expensive items of clothing.Due to the platform’s relative anonymity, where creators are mostly hidden behind square images, the community has become a haven for girls and women-identifying folk. They are known for, and by, their art. Their physical appearance and personal life are not necessarily under constant scrutiny – which is more than can be said for other high-profile females. In fact, among some creators, hitting certain follower-count ‘milestones’ calls for ‘face reveal’ posts, which are unfailingly met with heart-warming support by other creators:
Refreshingly, as a product of its creators, the niche meme community is largely inclusive, intersectional (with many POC creators such as @blacksheepmemes and @blackgirlmemer), and LGBTQI+ (or, at the very least, allied). The community has become close-knit, philanthropic, and highly supportive of one another.
Importantly, if a meme creator has unintentionally promoted ingrained prejudice within a meme, other creators are quick to provide constructive criticism. More often than not, this criticism is taken on board and met with an apology, and a deletion of the offending meme.
As creators become increasingly comfortable with their audience, their accounts tend to become authentic glimpses into the events of their daily lives. With memes ranging from light-hearted, to extremely neurotic, to literally just digital scrapbooks, these accounts often merge into becoming their diaries, represented in a loose meme format.
This openness, however, inevitably leads to vulnerability. But the Manic Pixie Meme Girls – and their memes – are often self-aware to the point of total self-defence: there is nothing that you can criticise these girls for that they have not already thought of (and acknowledged) themselves.
I’d vouch that the niche meme community represents the best of our generation: progressive, respectful, creative, and tech-savvy. As a frank representation of these girls’ psyches, however, one is forced to watch as their accounts become increasingly self-aware and neurotic to the point of being unbearable, with total breakdown frequently looming in the foreseeable future for each.
Lately, the community appears to have become overcrowded, bringing the arrival of overused tropes and unoriginal memes and leading to disillusionment among the ‘OG’ niche memers. At least one dramatic exit has occurred, with @witchmemes changing her username to @witch.poetry, archiving her memes, and posting her poetry instead, to mixed reception.
Just like the girls’ own personal struggles, the outlook of this Instagram niche is unknown. The Manic Pixie Meme Girls, however, are highly intelligent, with bright – or at least dramatic – futures ahead of them. It will be fascinating to watch their art mature with them.