No, Millie Bobby Brown isn’t homophobic. She’s not racist. She’s not a hateful bigot. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but in lieu of a series of escalating memes ironically portraying the Stranger Things-star as otherwise, this is where we’re at. The curiosity of meme culture and our insatiable thirst for the next *100K+ sensation! has unduly brought us here, and not without consequence. Millie Bobby Brown has left Twitter in response to an apparent in-joke done in incredibly poor taste. It sounds like we’ve entered a warped reality – normally an ideal setting for Eleven – except this is very real and utterly upside down.
The meme originated in November of last year when a troll account tweeted a fake run-in with Millie. Calling out people over Twitter became a movement in of itself last Fall, so it’s not much of a stretch to think others would hop on the bandwagon for those fleeting 15-seconds of fame. The user proceeded to post a poorly photoshopped image of herself in a hijab. You’d think it would start and end there, but…
Calling out Millie as an Islamophobe culminated in #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown, an apparent reaction to the #MeToo movement and the call-out culture of taking down bigots, abusers, and harassers. Except this was a tasteless one trying to ironically paint Millie as of the same hateful breed. This was apparently the draw of the joke – that someone so innocent could harbor such violent fantasies, thus the seeds were planted.
It being Pride month, another topic came into focus: the ludicrousness of homophobia, how outdated such beliefs are in 2018 and the insane threats of violence so often provoked. Whether this was a coincidence or an intended continuation is a bit murky, nonetheless users chose Millie as the meme’s ironic mascot. People took the liberty of her snapchats and Instagram photos and created a series of escalating meditations of violence – with the ongoing joke being that she’s a sweet kid, so the more outrageous the threat of violence, the funnier it got. Again, this is all done *ironically* because irony is the current trend. (Look for Irony in next year’s Oscars In Memoriam.)
Out of the context of tackling homophobia, people began taking these memes seriously. (No, seriously, you should see the replies of people un-stanning her.) #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown resurged, and, with the meme snowballing in a matter of days, the trolls got the satisfaction they wanted. Stan twitter claims the meme was never supposed to leave their insular community, but who the fuck is going to regulate that shit in a day and age of constant oversharing?
The thing about irony is that it has to be obvious, if not clever. (Since using a 14-year-old wasn’t particularly clever, there was only one option here.) The root agenda is bound to be lost on people, so without context this always had the potential to be dangerous. Some still have the audacity to defend the meme’s harmlessness even when Millie’s name is attached to homophobic slurs on top of re-circulating extremely violent videos. If that’s the standard, the rolling memes were only going to get worse since one-upping is the name of the meme-game, and the whole saga is more akin to cyberbullying since it comes at Millie’s expense. This, too, coming off an ongoing series of treating child stars horribly.
Are we this desperate for a laugh that we can only laugh at the absurd and the outrageously offensive? We have reached a point where nothing is sacred anymore, because everything has been distilled down to a thumbnail or a gif, potentially the next big meme of the moment. Everything, as a result, is content. This is indicative of a terrifying cross-section of fandom, meme culture, and fake news, all of the things that Stan twitter and alt-right trolls take pride in. Nothing is off-limits. This makes the Millie Bobby Brown saga even sadder because all the things we love about her made her a prime target: her preciousness, precociousness, and especially her innocence.
We are way past irony here. You can’t expect me to believe our levels of humor are so staggeringly complex that people were expressing outrage “ironically” or that Millie herself left Twitter “ironically.” This is just an excuse for douchebag behavior to thrive. Because it’s funny to use offensive slurs, to harass and slander people, and the trolls can once again get away with it because it’s in service of memes and a barely audible laugh. We’ve seemingly laughed at everything there is to laugh at, therefore only the perverse and the offensive can entertain us. Irony tends to blur at a certain rate. If everything’s ironic and everything is content, what’s to be taken seriously anymore?
The best analogy I’ve heard on the escalating cycle of meme-ing is likening it to porn addiction. We start out safe and innocent, dipping our toes on page 1 results and before we know it, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole of violent and absurd fetishes that we have somehow found ourselves on results-page 25. I suppose half of this points to the people who churn out this content in the name of entertainment. The other half is on us for thinking this is funny enough to spread. Memes don’t make or spread themselves. We took it this far.
Satire is the tool we use to disarm a subject and safely tackle it by pointing out the ethics lost in the shuffle. In the case of the Trump administration, that shit is WARRANTED. The public is being blatantly lied to (literally every Trump tweet, interview, and soundbite); news stories are being buried (child prison camps), others denied outright (Puerto Rico). Irony is a sufficient weapon here because of the matters at hand, and people like Trump, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are fine mascots of their own meme-buffoonery because, well, they’re the problem.
When Logan Paul epically screwed himself, the memes were endless, brashly indicating that in the off chance you stumble across a dead body maybe you should put the fucking camera down. (Again, warranted.) By comparison, what are the ethics involved in using Millie Bobby Brown as an ironic poster-child of homophobia? This could even be construed as harassment somewhere between Leslie Jones and Kelly Marie Tran. (Noticing a pattern here?) Apparently, the string of memes bear resemblance to an ironic Demi Lovato fat-shaming saga, but that’s hardly a compelling reason to continue the trend. If we’re doing this ironically, where does the joke end? Where was it even funny?
This is truly a sign of the times – warped fandoms, bullying harmless teens, and an ongoing case study of harassing actors offline. This feels like a particularly cruel stroke considering Stranger Things is an ode to fandom, to the obsessives with nothing better to do than obsess over the things they love. #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown is a result of a collective who have nothing better to do than harass and troll and meme. If this is where Twitter is currently, I don’t want to be around when it devolves into something worse.
With this and the Kelly Marie Tran saga, I find myself questioning the usefulness of social media. For writers like myself, it’s a promotional tool – a way to engage with readers and occasionally solicit opportunity. But as more of us spend more of our time on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, social media increasingly becomes one homogenized mob where memes have become our shared drug. This is the only high we can attain, going viral, stirring up fake controversies, and racking up likes at the expense of the innocent. Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown both used their devices to reach out to fans and promote good vibes yet they were the ones driven off social media. Perhaps it’s our own devices that need serious reconsidering.