Like all temporal units, a year is pretty arbitrary, but that’s never stopped human beings from trying to wrest some meaning out of anniversaries and other markers of time’s passing. In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the narrator writes of having measured out his life in coffee spoons. The musical Rent suggests daylights, sunsets, midnights, and cups of coffee—what is it about coffee?—among other things as ways to measure (measure) a year. But for those of us who aren’t poets or Broadway singers, social media has emerged as a convenient way to look back at our year-ago selves. Hazy memories have been superseded by the act of scrolling back and pinpointing exactly where you were and what you were posting when some thing, whether historical in the context of the world or just in the context of your own life, came to pass.
On this, the eve of Election Day 2017, people are taking the time to reflect on their Election Day 2016 experiences. Was it only a year ago that the societal sinkhole we currently find ourselves in first opened? Using a format reminiscent of the way people rang in the end of 2016, Twitter users are posting side-by-side photos, usually of actors in famous movie roles, the first happy and normal, the second in the throes of battle or some other struggle, labeled along the lines of “me on Election Day 2016 vs. me on Election Day 2017.” But description is really no match for seeing the meme in action, so here, let writer Lyz Lenz’s example show you the way:
Once upon a time on Election Day 2016, Lyz Lenz was a carefree Gidget, but a year later, she’s a radicalized Norma Rae. It’s a commentary on how Donald Trump’s win and subsequent months in office have put all of us through the ringer. Or, if perhaps you aren’t familiar enough with the oeuvre of Sally Field for these photos to resonate—which is a shame because she’s a national treasure—Lenz can tell it to you in terms of Sigourney Weaver. (She’s been tweeting good variations on the meme all day.)
Like Twitter itself, the 2016 election you vs. 2017 election you provides an occasion for working within constraints and finding ways to remix and rethink a pre-existing form, letting pictures fill in all the extra feeling that it can be hard to summon in text. We also get to share photos of actors and movies we like, a reminder of the goofy pleasures of what feels like a bygone time: Remember when we used to argue about movies and stuff on here instead of reacting to the latest horrific news?
The meme also reminds us, perhaps, that “the bad part” is a familiar chunk of any narrative. Things looked grim when Sigourney Weaver was fighting the aliens, and true, her character does die in one of the sequels, but that didn’t stop her from starring in Galaxy Quest or Baby Mama or Avatar … Sigourney Weaver may not actually be the best example here. The point is that even though Election Day 2017 you may look like a dark snapshot, it’s not the end of the story. You could totally come back to life as a clone in a sequel down the line.