Twitter can be stressful and depressing even in the best of times, and after a seismic political event such as Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement, it can feel like a bottomless pit of despair for those on the losing side (in this case, liberals and moderates).
Enter the “Create Your Supreme Court” meme—a Twitter parlor game making the rounds Thursday that’s at once frivolous and serious, mindless and cathartic, narcissistic and generous. Its rules are pretty self-explanatory once you see the image, but here’s the gist:
1) Each sitting Supreme Court justice is assigned one letter corresponding to their surname. For most, it’s the first letter, but for Kagan (N) and Gorsuch (H), it’s the last.
2) For each letter, type it into Twitter’s search bar (or type the “@” character followed by the letter into Twitter’s compose window), and select the first name that pops up.
3) The output of this game constitutes your personal Twitter Supreme Court. Tag them all in a tweet and attach the image macro at the bottom.
It’s unclear to me where the game originated; the phrase “create your supreme court” generates no relevant results on Google, and none of my Twitter followers seemed to know. I first saw it in the feed of New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner, who is widely followed among New York media types. Rosner did not immediately respond to a DM for comment. Regardless, as with most memes, you don’t really need the backstory to enjoy it. (UPDATE, Thursday, June 28, 6:37 p.m. ET: A Twitter user named Thoughtslime has claimed credit for the meme, posted what they say is the original version of it (embedded below), and passed my ultra-scientific authenticity test, so I’m going with them as the likely originator. )
The reason it works is that Twitter personalizes its search and tagging suggestions for each user based on who you’ve engaged with lately on the site. So the first name that pops up is likely to be someone whose tweets you interact with on a regular basis. (Twitter has not disclosed exactly what signals its algorithm uses, but it seems likely that likes, retweets, and/or replies play a role, and recency appears to be a significant factor.)
The punchline is that whatever semi-random Supreme Court you happen to generate is going to look far more appealing to you than the one we’re likely to have once Kennedy steps down. That’s doubly true if you lean left of center. I mean, the people you happen to engage with on Twitter may not have an extensive legal background, but it’s fun to imagine them up there cutting through the B.S. in 280-character bursts of wit and insight, right?
Then again, some people’s Twitter courts are almost bad enough to make one actually appreciate the justices we have.
What makes the meme hard to resist is that your fake Supreme Court reflects not only on its members, but on you. A cool, diverse bench speaks to your taste and connections in addition to highlighting the relative homogeneity conservatism of its real-life counterpart.
This can cut the other way, though. For instance, studies have shown that men on Twitter interact far more with other men than they do with women—and that’s likely to be reflected in some men’s Twitter auto-suggestions, and therefore in their fantasy SCOTUSes. That might not be a bad thing, if it helps to highlight to some folks the gender imbalance in their Twitter habits. Not that I’m speaking from experience here, but I suspect it’s tempting for some to cheat and substitute the second or third name that pops up for the first one. Who would know, right? (You would, cheater!)
Vox’s Matt Yglesias at least gets points for self-awareness and maybe a partial pass, because McElwee’s long novelty Twitter name apparently makes him eligible for pretty much any letter.
The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, meanwhile, gets neither points nor a pass for his list comprising himself, his own podcast, six men and an angry baseball.
For all its appeal, the meme appeared to die down rather quickly in media circles Thursday, perhaps because once you’ve posted yours, there’s not a ton of point in circulating others. (As I was writing this, the Supreme Court handwringing was also overtaken by tragedy in the form of a mass shooting at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.) Like dreams and MySpace profiles, everyone’s fantasy court is probably of far more interest to themselves than it is to anyone else. But maybe the meme’s lack of viral potential should count as another point in its favor. It’s like a bit of local Twitter, but on a national scale. And if the tweets aren’t exactly scintillating, they’re still a rare and somewhat revealing window into the Twitter lives of the people you follow.
So go ahead and tell us who’s on your court in the comments below, and we’ll pretend to care while really just using it as an excuse to feel good about our own. Because we could all use something to feel good about today.