In Grand Theft Auto V, Trevor Philips complains, “sarcasm is the blight of this country.” This is especially ironic, given that the GTA series is an often unsubtle satire of America and pop culture. Despite this, Trevor is well-aimed in his self-aware shot at the cynicism that has become the sickness of our times.
GTAV topped not a few 2013 Game of the Year lists, but 2013 also brought to our collective attention a pop culture fad that captured the spirit of lazy cynicism—Doge.
This innocent Shiba Inu seized our lives in 2013. The appeal is not puzzling. Doge is a fat dog with a dopey grin: surrounded by purposefully bad spelling and grammar in reviled Comic Sans colored text. The meme has all the makings of funny.
Doge has strange origins, but it has come to its essential form as a dog having awkward inner monologue. This usually involves dealing with the consequences of doggy mischief.
But, as memes are inclined, they mutate, they adapt to their environments—they evolve. And in the competition for limited mindshare, Doge became 2013’s apex predator. Doge now feasts on the overflowing sustenance provided by impotent social media rage*.
In the exclusive club of people who are perpetually unimpressed, Doge has developed into the secret handshake of inarticulate cynics. Starting off as hapless absurdity, doge captions have detached from the image and now entirely compose what are apparently serious critiques of politicians and crummy social circumstances. Conflicts between people that used to be addressed with thinly veiled passive aggressive sentences, now enjoy the concise convenience of, “wow. such stupid. much bad.”
As with sarcasm, the snappy potshots in Doge meme form leave much of the content up to the reader to piece together. After all, how much information can you really derive from “wow. much injustice. very surveillance” that you didn’t already know on your own? There is, of course, a time and a place for sarcasm, but it is worrisome when such things take frequent precedence over fully professed opinions that may often be half-baked, but put enough out there for others to take apart and improve.
Granted, the validity of criticism is not rooted in the wordiness of a diatribe (like this piece you are reading). But, the prolificness of the Doge shorthand has diminished what could otherwise be expressions of original and piercing insights. Using Doge as a constant crutch, we can snipe at things without fear of serious rebuttal. After all, it’s just a stupid joke. In Internet parlance, the abundance of Doge-form criticisms makes up an exasperated circlejerk. People validate each other’s opinions so throughly that they don’t even have to articulate the substance of their beliefs. You already know their opinion: it’s whatever yours is!
In the evolution of Doge, it adapted to our shared fear of rejection for being different. When the fad sours, as all memes inevitably do, something else will occupy Doge’s mental niche. We will then use some new catchphrase to signal to each other, “It’s safe to come out. Nobody here will challenge what you say. Everyone here believes the same things you do.” And when that happens, it will reveal that it is not poor Doge that’s really to blame for lazy cynicism—it’s our own self-imposed intellectual exile.
The use of Doge as ironic shorthand often comes from genuine idealism, if exhausted and bruised from constant defeat. This leaves us to find comfort hiding behind memes, in the safety of our self-made social media bubbles, where we only read and interact with people we already agree with and never expose our ideas to criticism.
*Incidentally, Impotent Rage is a cartoon you can watch inside the GTAV world. It depicts superficially passionate liberals, who are sated by doing brief acts that are more showy than they are effective.