As time passes, it is expected that some pieces of literature, which might have been considered renowned and prominent works in their prime, have gone out of style. So, how is it decided what pieces resonate with the current generation? The capability of a piece to be modernized depends upon the relatability of the text, and, today, one of the most relatable authors of the past is Edgar Allan Poe. His theory surrounding self-deprecation, or what he calls, The Imp of the Perverse, and his ability to inflate situations to ridiculous effect are expressed in many of his works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. However, Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse” also lives on in an unexpected place. Modern fans of Poe have taken these ideas of self-deprecation and hyperbole and have made them more personal and relatable to themselves by creating inside jokes spread throughout online communities, or, more commonly, they are referred to as memes.
To examine this strange yet interesting phenomenon, Poe’s writing must first be understood in its original context. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the moment that reveals humanity’s self-deprecating nature is when the narrator decides to invite the police into the scene of the murder to chat right after committing the heinous act. “In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim (Poe 501).” The narrator wants to boast about the murder, but to do so aloud will have him arrested. Therefore, he instead indulges this perversion by inviting the police to inspect the house, which he cleaned every trace of the heinous deed from so well. He even purposely sits upon the very spot the old man is buried beneath the floorboards. This very decision proves to be his undoing, which he ultimately causes. “They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted (Poe 501)”. Through no one’s fault but his own, the narrator is pressured into confession, slowly driven mad by the imagined sound of the old man’s heartbeat under his feet. “’I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart! (Poe 501).”
This irony of a person coveting and then invoking their own destruction, while horrifying in some regards, can be humorous to people with odd tastes. In October of 2016, Tumblr, a social media site, known for manufacturing self-deprecating, hyperbolic memes in great quantity, took Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado” and managed to transform it into a meme. This stemmed from a post created by a user called popularlesbian who started a thread by stating, “im not petty and i dont see the point in holding a grudge. Anyway would you like to come into my cellar and taste a fine vintage [sic]”. Another user, called hamburgertrousers, responded by answering, “me in a silly hat, completely wasted: boy would i! [sic]”. This transformation of the text exaggerates the ridiculousness of the story. What once made it so horrifying now creates a feeling of hilarity instead.
The meme was also developed to include memorable historical moments that fit in with the narrative of “The Cask of Amontillado” a little too coincidentally. While Trump was on every news site promoting a wall he wanted built in between Mexico and The United States, Tumblr users noted the similarity between Trump’s wall and Montresor’s. Tumblr user funlittleinteresting posted, “Montressor: ‘When you don’t like someone, just put up a wall between you and them!’ / Soviet Union and Donald: ‘ohhhHHHHHhhhhhHhhHHH’ [sic]”. There were also instances where the meme was deployed to allude to the horrible 2016 clown attacks that were occurring in some parts of The United States paralleling with Fortunato’s harlequin get-up.
Twitter in 2016 went through a similar phase in expressing Poe’s ideology when the “Evil Kermit” meme began appearing in tweets. While the image of Kermit standing next to a similar iteration of himself in a black cloak is originally from a Muppets film, Twitter took the image and ran with it so that the context was now, “This is me. And that’s evil me, trying to get me to do things against my own interest.” The original poster @aaannnnyyyyaaaa made the post, “me: sees a fluffy dog / me to me: steal him”. Another variation that illustrates this detrimental, impulsive thinking was by a user named @PinkMiruku. Her tweet reads, “Me: *sleeps late* / Me to me before class: Skip it”.
It’s remarkable that Edgar Allan Poe’s classic horror stories could be modernized in this way. But how did it happen? Relatability, or how well this generation resonates with literature is probably the key to unlocking this mystery. 69% of Tumblr’s userbase (96 Amazing Tumblr Statistics & Facts) and 38% of Twitter’s userbase (350 Amazing Twitter Statistics) are made up of millennials. Among millennials, 1 in 5 have admitted to experiencing depression (Nefer). To this generation of jokesters on social media, Edgar Allan Poe, who suffered from depressive bouts himself, might seem like a kindred soul from the past, reaching out to them.
There are even parallels between Poe’s characteristics and those of millennials. He was described as being “defensive and threatened by negative comments (Giammarco)” while millennials are said to “overreact to natural stressors that previous generations dealt with more effectively (Nefer)”. And while “[h]e often used excessive, theatrical language, poignantly captured in his statement, ‘I do believe God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery’ (Giammarco)” the humor expressed in the provided memes have likewise been hyperbolic to the extreme.
However, rather than allow these dark or “perverse” thoughts to consume them, this generation has found a better use. They use the absurdity of it all to make themselves laugh. They rearrange the narrative in a way that it becomes funny. They overlay self-deprecating humor over their depression because they realize if they don’t, then all it is is misery. And the results of only finding misery in misery is what befell Edgar Allan Poe: “Poe would also be described as being low in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness since he was argumentative, untrusting, and lacked self-control (i.e. his drinking, his failure to pursue education) (Giammarco)”.
What were once horror stories, meant to invoke fear in people of the dark nature that lies in the heart of humanity, are now being used as a coping mechanism for online communities of a new generation. By modernizing the text of Edgar Allan Poe, fans of literature are appreciating and celebrating his works in a whole new and unexpected way. This phenomenon has revealed an incredibly interesting and inspiring aspect of humanity that is completely contradictory to what Poe intended his works to mean. Rather than interpreting the meaning to be “All humans hold darkness in their hearts” it is being interpreted as, “Even in the darkness there is a light.”
@aaannnnyyyyaaaa. “me: sees a fluffy dog / me to me: steal him pic.twitter.com/XuJFCBi7st.” anya, 06 Nov. 2016, 4:42 AM, < https://twitter.com/aaannnnyyyyaaaa?protected_redirect=true>.
funlittleinteresting. “Montressor: “When you don’t like someone…” Fun.Little.Interesting., <http://funlittleinteresting.tumblr.com/post/151467771786/montressor-when-you-dont-like-someone-just-put>.
Giammarco, E. (2013). Edgar Allan Poe: A psychological profile Personality and Individual Differences, 54 (1), 3-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.07.027
hamburgertrousers. “im not petty…” Take it from me, little buddy., <http://hamburgertrousers.tumblr.com/post/151291495391/popularlesbian-im-not-petty-and-i-dont-see-the>.
Nefer, Barb. “Depression Amongst Millennials – Why Are They Affected at Higher Rates?” Depression Amongst Millennials – Why Are They Affected at Higher Rates? | Web Psychology. WebPsychology, 08 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. <https://www.webpsychology.com/news/2015/10/08/depression-amongst-millennials-%E2%80%93-why-are-they-affected-higher-rates-232931>.
@PinkMurku. “Me: *sleeps late* / Me to me before class: Skip it pic.twitter.com/XuJFCBi7st.” ♡ Berry ♡, 07 Nov. 2016, 12:12 AM, <https://twitter.com/PinkMiruku/status/795539480115552256>
Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete tales and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes & Noble, Sterling Publishing Co., 2015. Print.
Smith, Craig. “350 Amazing Twitter Statistics.” DMR. N.p., 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. <http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/>.
Smith, Craig. “96 Amazing Tumblr Statistics & Facts.” DMR. N.p., 07 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. <http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/tumblr-user-stats-fact/>.