In 2017, the internet was rocked by the Distracted Boyfriend meme. One man, his arm around a supposed girlfriend, staring at the backside of another girl while the first woman looks on, furious at this supposed betrayal. But let’s start from the beginning.
The original image was part of a stock photo series, taken on 2nd November 2015 (that’s right, I did the research). It’s entitled ‘Disloyal man with his girlfriend looking at another girl’. Perhaps not the most concise title, but it certainly does the job. And for two odd years, this weirdly comical, literally titled image lay in the metaphorical depths of the internet’s basement. Then, it was dragged into the meme-y limelight…by Phil Collins fans, no less.
On 30th January 2017, a Turkish Facebook page posted the photo that started the tsunami. The man is labelled Phil Collins, being distracted from ‘prog’ (progressive rock) and drawn to the genre of pop. I’ve had minimal interaction with Collins’ music, but after a quick consultation with my dad, he assured me that this was indeed, funny.
Somehow, this joke made by a generation that is, presumably, not entirely familiar with memes, spread like wildfire. It fits the same format a lot of memes take – choosing something ‘inferior’ or ‘unhealthy’ over something else. Basically, it’s funny when someone does the unexpected, like choosing the obviously wrong option. Netflix binging instead of sleeping, fruit instead of curly fries, and, apparently, pop instead of prog (I still don’t fully understand).
There have been many, many, many, many, many reworkings of this meme. So, so many. I really can’t stress how many. And one of them is the reason I’m able to talk about this seemingly ancient meme with some modicum of relevance. I’m talking, of course, about the distracted wedding photo.
I’ve had minimal interaction with Collins’ music, but after a quick consultation with my dad, he assured me that this was indeed, funny.
On 29th September 2018, a Redditor posted a photo of a newlywed couple, the groom distracted by a shirtless man in the water. Happy 20gayteen, folks. It is this image, above all other reworkings, that has sparked a small resurgence of both the original and reworked format – and why wouldn’t it? Throughout this year, the LGBTQ+ community has finally gotten a few wins – at least, in the pop culture sphere. Janelle Monáe came out; Rosa Diaz, Petra Solano and Valencia Perez (from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend respectively) were revealed to be bisexual, and the gay rom-com blockbuster, Love, Simon was released. And why wouldn’t the community get excited about another form of representation, even if it is in meme format?
Some may claim that this meme is recycled or unoriginal due to this repeated format, but it’s essentially the same as the majority of memes out there. The John Mulaney ‘yes/no’, the cartoon man in the desert crawling in one direction instead of the other – they all involve rejecting the expected for the unexpected. And to me, that’s what’s just so appealing. We should strive to enact healthy behaviours; eating right, looking after ourselves, and being kind to others. That urge to act in an unhealthy manner can be satiated with these, for lack of a better term, gallows humour. Joking about how you should be studying instead of spending time on social media means awareness of what you, in fact, should be doing, and that’s a start.
On top of that, these memes can get meta. Like, incredibly meta. This is an article rather than a listicle, so I’m not going to attach all the examples I can find (you’re welcome, editors), but trust me. Spend five minutes googling the distracted boyfriend meme and you’ll find people labelling the man as themselves, the annoyed girlfriend as ‘new and interesting memes’, and the unassuming other woman as ‘the distracted boyfriend meme’ – so on and so forth. Now go, my friends, and meme on.