Once upon a time, McKayla Maroney was not impressed. The year was 2012, the place was London, and the face was a grimace that even the rich emoji keyboard of 2016 cannot fully convey.
If only Maroney were around to see the flimsy so-called memes that have defined this Olympics cycle. Sadly, the gymnast retired earlier this year and was never heard from again.
But Maroney hasn’t been on TV every night vaulting and serving major face—and that absence is felt. In the media’s post-Maroney desperation, outlets like Vanity Fair and the Daily Mail have tried to advance the narrative that the Olympic-meme torch has been passed to Michael Phelps and his angry face. Uh, Michael Phelps wishes!
Michael’s face is nowhere near as good as McKayla’s. It’s going to take a lot more than scowling at a South African to unseat our Olympics meme queen, long may she reign.
Yes, it was momentarily amusing when Chad le Clos tried to get inside Phelps’ head before the 200-meter butterfly semifinal by dancing around, shadowboxing, and all but banging two giant cymbals together in a bid for attention, while Phelps responded only with a glower. Under his hood, it’s true, he resembled a Sith lord.
That was a great face. We all laughed about it for a good long while—at least four seconds, maybe five.
Maroney’s “not impressed” face is a look that will live on for years to come, maybe even forever. It’s surprising, actually, given the singular uncanniness of that facial expression, that Maroney hasn’t taken a page out of Kim Kardashian’s ebook and come out with her own set of custom McKayla Marojis. The McKayla meme is more powerful than even Maroney herself seems to understand. In an interview, she told TMZ she would gladly cede her spot as the Olympics’ meme queen, as if she or anyone has a say in the matter. This is bigger than her, bigger than all of us.
First of all, try making the faces. Twisting your face into a Maroney is a fun activity for the whole family. Try it, we’ll wait.
That was fun! Anyone can approximate the “not impressed” face. Just move your mouth over there, and yup, you’ve got it.
A Phelps-like brood is at once less singular and harder to accomplish. Look straight ahead and, you know, just kind of look angry. It’s a pretty vague directive, and results will vary from person to person. A hood would help, but a meme you need accessories to achieve is obviously a lesser meme.
When Maroney won a silver medal in the vault at the London Games instead of the gold she’d been dreaming of, her frown on the podium said more than words ever could. There it was, all that is heartbreaking about a sport that discards women before they’re even adults and that gives athletes just one tiny chance to shine, and all of it distilled onto a 16-year-old’s expressive face.
Michael Phelps will be remembered for his 20-odd gold medals, his world records, his raucous celebration style, and his retirement and comeback. He will not be remembered for a few seconds of glaring. For McKayla, “not impressed” might be it. She’ll move on to other things, she’ll grow up, maybe she’ll even release some of the music her Twitter bio teases. But no matter what she accomplishes for the rest of her life, we’ll always see that expression on her face. That’s probably bad for McKayla Maroney. But that’s a very good meme.