Over the past week, Denise Sánchez received a flood of text messages letting her know that her photo was all over Twitter. An image taken in 2018 of her apparently speaking passionately into the ear of her rather unamused ex-boyfriend went viral, again.
Enter the “Girl explaining” meme.
What started as a fleeting moment at a New Year’s Eve music festival in Argentina suddenly gained additional meaning through each new post: the photo has since become a template for shouting out pop culture moments, expressing complaints about the end of “Titanic”, sharing takes on the Marvel Universe and even drives action against climate change.
WATCH GEORGE MILLER TOOK 10 YEARS TO BRING BABE TO LIFE BECAUSE THE TECHNOLOGY HE NEEDED TO ACHIEVE HIS VISION. THEY USED 48 PIGS BECAUSE PIGS GROW UP SO FAST, BUT THEY ALSO USED AN ANIMATRONIC PUPPET AND CG TO GET THE PERFECT TALKING EFFECT. JAMES CROMWELL REALLY ALSO BECAME VEGAN pic.twitter.com/h4FifCUIwM
— Ayo Edebiri (@ayoedebiri) August 17, 2022
Although the meme first gained traction in Sánchez’s native Argentina in 2019, seeing his face on social media in 2022, and having other people project their ideas onto it, came as a surprise to her. She said that she never imagined that the meme would make the global crossover that she has since mid-August.
To set the record straight: no, Sanchez wasn’t screaming into space. He was actually singing a cumbia song, one of the most popular musical genres in Argentina. That explains his arm gesturing toward the horizon.
“We dance cumbias that way,” Sánchez said. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember what song was playing because “it just happened a long time ago.”
As happens too often, Sanchez was unsuspectingly caught in the background of someone else’s photo. About two months later, the actual subject of the photo posted it on Twitter and “captioned it something like, ‘When strangers mess up your photos,’” Sanchez recalled. Another person walked up to the amused sight of Sanchez apparently speaking loudly to a boy with a completely blank expression. And boom, a meme was born.
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A local nutrition-focused account posted it in 2019 with a call not to trust juice detoxes and crash diets. Then the soccer teams and their rivals intervened. He reached several pages of memes in Spanish.
“It was hilarious to watch him walk,” Sánchez said. “The music festival even gave us free tickets for next year. But I thought that Argentina and other Latin countries would be as far away as the meme got.”
In the nearly four years since the photo was taken, many things have changed in Sánchez’s life. He added several tattoos to his body and dyed his then blonde hair dark. He started studying nutrition, a bit of irony considering the beginnings of the meme. The guy she was photographed with? They have long since parted ways.
But to the rest of the world, she is frozen in time as the “Explaining Girl” or “Bro Girl”. The resurgence happened on August 15, when a Twitter user shared a photo of her with a message about the incompatibility between Gemini and Scorpio, according to Know Your Meme. Soon, celebrities, politicians, and brands started piling in.
An old meme, with a twist
What makes the photo so shareable and meme-worthy is that it’s essentially a new twist on an old, recognizable format, said Hannah Barton, a researcher on the cultural history of memes in the UK and a member of the International Network. of meme studies research. viral memes they often follow the same structure: having a “fixed element”, meaning an aesthetic or tone already played, and a “novel twist”.
Since at least the early 2010s, there have been different iterations of “Brother Explained,” or a man talking to a woman who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. But Sánchez’s photo is one of the first, if not the first, examples of the reverse situation. Barton said. The trope is well known; however, the investment opened the space for people to criticize the dynamic or joke about a meme format that had already become obsolete.
“We know what that format expresses,” Barton said. “And…it’s really a useful format for conveying a variety of different points. It’s the kind of media artifact that’s really useful for mass participation because everyone can put their own spin on it.”
While “Bro Explaining” often jokes about the “bro-y” things men say, “Girl Explaining” is mostly an “esoteric explaining meme”, a more complex element dealing with people’s highly specialized interests, but passionately sustained, said Jamie Cohen. , assistant professor of media studies at CUNY Queens College.
“This young lady is screaming, but everything she’s screaming about is extremely esoteric and cute and very detailed. She says a lot about how people want to express speech,” she said. “And also a lot about us that we want space to write specific information and we don’t have a container to publish that.”
AS LONG AS THEY BOTH HAVE THE WORD STAR IN THEM. STAR TREK AND STAR WARS ARE VERY DIFFERENT. SW IS A SPACE OPERA DEALING WITH THE MYSTICAL CONCEPT OF A THING CALLED THE FORCE SET IN THE PAST IN A GALAXY NOT OURS. ST IS MORE LIKE A SYFY DEALING WITH CONCEPTS THAT MIGHT BE TRUE. pic.twitter.com/bh7ZhDmFd5
— Steve Harvey’s old wig 🇭🇹🥭 (@NeglectedCarrot) August 18, 2022
The search for authentic spaces explains not only current trends in memes, but also the rise of Gen Z’s favorite apps TikTok and BeReal, Cohen said. Users, especially younger ones, are fighting filters and curated fonts. “Girl Explaining” may well be another version of that discontent.
“This becomes a pushback against the inability to use spaces like Facebook or Twitter properly and genuinely,” he said. “You may want to express this emotion, this feeling, or this thought, but where do you put it? You wouldn’t post passionate thoughts like these there. But this meme offers an opportunity to express a very interesting and niche thought.”
For Sánchez, it has been surreal to see celebrities she follows, like Hailey Bieber, suddenly post her photo. It’s also a little weird to see an old photo of her with her ex in perpetuity of her, she said, but it’s been fun to see the different takes people have had of the moment.
Sánchez said that if she made her own version of the meme, it would be to raise awareness of gender-based violence. After all, he said, “the point of the meme is to talk about these things that we all know to be true, but somehow don’t hear enough.”
But he also knows that the meme will probably be gone soon. According to Barton and Cohen, after a meme reaches maximum saturation, its use begins to plateau. His death is destined once it starts posting on Instagram (and the meme has apparently already reached that point). When it arrives on Facebook, it’s essentially a ghost.
Sanchez is ready for the meme to go away, but knows it’s only a matter of time until someone else unknowingly finds herself in the same situation. Somewhere, someday, someone will make another facial expression that the Internet will find common ground with, and then it will flip.
In that case, Sánchez has some advice: “Take it easy and laugh.”
And maybe don’t look too hard in the comments sections, he added.