Meryl’s Streep iconic scream from Big Little Lies’ second season will be forever etched in our memory, partly due to a GIF of the scene that was shared over and over on social media. Since then, the GIF has taken on a life of its own. In fact, that might be the case for a lot of scenes from different TV shows—from The Office’s Dwight Schrute whispering “it’s true” to The Good Place’s Eleanor saying “this is the bad place.” Some shows and films—Bird Box and Chernobyl come to mind—have even seen memes boost their visibility to new demographics.
A new GQ story digs into this phenomenon while also pondering whether television shows are perhaps trying too hard to create these GIF-able moments. “Much of the reason that Queen Meryl’s role was so polarizing boiled down to, well, Twitter,” says the piece. “A common complaint among fans suggested that the show’s second season geared itself towards social media virality—such as Streep screaming uncontrollably in the opening episode—at the expense of scenes with narrative value.”
The piece also highlights experts like Dr. Richard Clay, a professor of digital cultures at Newcastle University, and other experts to gain a better understanding of the GIF as it relates to content branding and the creator’s desire for continued conversation around any given project. TV critic Scott Bryan, for example, believes that producers are aware of the competition now “so they have to have these big scenes—these big landmark ‘moments’, which are often very sharable and memeable—to get viral attention.”
And while, sure, it may impact how authentically we view, appreciate, and discuss content, the piece argues that this trend is here to stay—at least for now. “But as television creators look to generate viral attention and use memes to simulate ‘authentic’ communication online, a pushback against shows which seem overly memeable feels inevitable.”
Until that pushback arrives, we say GIF away. Streep’s scream has enlivened no shortage of our own group chats.
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