How “The Cask of Amontillado” Became A Meme
Why don't you come to my house and I'll tell you about it on our way down to the basement?
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For those of you unfamiliar with the famous short story by Edgar Allan Poe, let me sum it up for you real quick. There’s this guy named Montresor who lures his frenemy, a jester named Fortunato, into following him down into his basement aka the catacombs with the promise of some real classy and rare Amontillado wine. Montresor then chains Fortunato in a chamber before walling him in, leaving him to die. Talk about petty.
How exactly did it become a meme?
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. Imagine yourself in my place. It’s a Thursday night, I’m locked in my room, all alone trying to study for chemistry and I get distracted. Soon enough, tumblr.com is up on my laptop obscuring the educational khan academy videos and befuddling my sleep addled mind with this new meme. At first, I had thought I was seeing things, but as more and more posts about “The Cask of Amontillado” surfaced, I knew it had to be true.
While I don’t know how it’s become a meme, here are a few theories on why it’s become viral.
1. Inside Joke
Everyone loves being in on a joke, so imagine being in on this particular joke – seeing as a majority of Americans has had to read this short story sometime in high school. Not only can you make clever allusions that only select people can understand, but you can find several different ways to seamlessly weave it into conversation. And partly, it’s funny because you know something that’s old, intellectual, famous, AND classy.
2. Not Getting the Joke
It literally gets funnier and funnier when more and more people don’t get the joke. Not in the uncultured swine kind of funny, because most of us had to have read it sometime in high school, but in the way that Fortunato didn’t get it either. Literally, Montressor and his petty self played the jester so bad that the jester didn’t realize he was played until as he was being walled away – though, let’s face it, he was pretty drunk on all that Amontillado.
This meme also brings about a great opportunity for “just go back a little further” and “come down to my basement and I’ll show you” jokes. Good ideas for a hoco proposal, yeah?
3. Memes, Memes, and More Memes
Memes, memes, and more meme – it’s extremely easy to adapt into already existing memes and pop culture references. The story itself has had immense cultural staying power and has been referenced in many different shows from cartoons like The Simpsons to various video games. Memewise, while it is still relatively new, different variations of memes that incorporate this meme include Caveman Spongebob, Brick Wall Spongebob (2), Thomas the Tank Engine, #wastehistime – my personal favorite, “me, an intellectual”, and so much more. Surprisingly enough, it’s actually really easy to somehow turn a 150 year old story into a modern meme. Way to go, Tumblr.
4. Killer Clowns
So, I’m sure you’ve all heard of this clown epidemic that’s stretched across the entire East Coast. Videos are everywhere and you’ve probably seen some very graphic and disturbing depictions of clowns attacking people. Well, groups of people have taken it on themselves to fight back against these clowns.
And seeing as in this short story, Fortunado is essentially a clown (a jester, but it’s close enough) who meets his end by being walled away and left to die, supporters of fighting against these clowns have grown attached to this idea of essentially walling in the clowns. Uhmmm, not so much a solution but I guess you can try it? Maybe lure them in with some party jokes?
5. The Wall
Another hilarious aspect to this meme is the idea of building a wall. Famous for his rants on his policies about immigration, and yes, mainly the Wall, Donald Trump has found a way in being in the spotlight of this meme. You’ve heard him drone on and on about him building a wall – memes have surfaced suggesting a wall be built around him! Not to mention the fact that several media outlets and tumblr users fondly refer to Trump as a clown.
It’s the spookiest month of the year, with Halloween just right around the corner and Poe’s deathday just passing – it’s the season to be spooky! Poe’s work, notable for it’s grimdark and scaryness, seems to be the perfect thing to make a meme out of. (Add in that touch of dramatic irony and it’s laughter and laughter and laughter for days.)
7. Tumblr Culture
And to finally pull it all together is Tumblr culture. With users from ages 13 to 30-something, Tumblr has a very interesting culture altogether and now, in meme culture, “The Cask of Amontillado” has surely caught its eye. According to knowyourmeme.com, user popularlesbian is credited by Vox as the prime source of the surge in this particular meme. In a text post posted on October 3, 2016, popularlesbian made the post that changed everything. On its own, the post may have massed about a few hundred notes. However, because of the user hambergertrousers‘ response a week later, the world may never have known this modern meme, which now, has amassed a walloping 32,500 notes as of today.
In my mind, I’d understand why such a post would become viral though I can’t seem to find the right words. Based on Vox’s theory, it’s based on how Tumblr’s site design is structured. The site offers three points that I agree with on why in the world this meme would surge because of the response.
- It demonstrates that the plot of Poe’s famous story is a part of Tumblr’s collective knowledge base — that is, it represents one book nerd speaking to another book nerd.
- It takes a classic literary trope or plot and updates it using modern language and humor. This is a technique that’s a huge part of meme generation on Tumblr, where ironic hyperbole and modern twists on history and classical literature are a big element of the common vernacular.
- It makes two characters out of a completely bygone era feel fresh and relatable. No one among Tumblr’s mostly millennial demographic has ever led their drunk friend down to the family catacombs, but we’ve all either been the slightly silly drunk friend, or been the slightly evil (or mostly evil) friend who can’t resist mocking them for it.
It’s the season and in the timing. As mentioned before, Tumblr has a very interesting culture – one that proactively celebrates Halloween months before it’s even thought of. Many users have already started their celebrating and it makes sense to see one of Poe’s most accomplished literary works to be featured as the star of something, though a meme wouldn’t really be what Poe had in mind. Or would it?
TL;DR: Inside jokes and dramatic irony with a dash of cross-memeing and the anxiety from this upcoming election as well as the creepy clown sightings thrown in with lit teachers having their kids (mostly freshman in high school) read “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (that is essentially the murder of a guy dressed as a clown) and the spirit of Halloween = the birth of a new meme. There’s a mix of how this meme really went viral but here’s the truth: Tumblr made it happen. End of story.