Love ‘em or hate ‘em, if you’re online, memes are part of your world. Whether you enjoy their humor or every reference seems to float over your head, today, memes have become something akin to a new common language. Common if you can understand them that is.
Memes come in many shapes and forms. A meme is essentially a trending idea or fad meant to be shared. Often humorous, memes can consist of a behavior, a phrase, an image, and much more. The resurgence of Keep Calm and Carry On posters is just as much a meme as people saying “Mah wiiife!” or “Very nicee” for months after Borat hit theaters.
Like any language, memes communicate all varieties of ideas—none off-limits—death being no exception. Like death puns, death memes can give us a way to address a sensitive topic with humor. The following are some noteworthy examples. These death memes demonstrate how the Internet has become a place where we can all talk about death without taking it too seriously.
1. RIP in Peace
As is the case with many Internet memes, it’s not entirely clear why people started using the redundant phrase “RIP in Peace” on social media and other online platforms when famous people die. The first well-known usage of “RIP in Peace” could be a May 12th, 2007 post on the Newgrounds Forums, in which a user posted “RIP in Peace Shane Cross” after the death of a popular skateboarder.
Since then, the phrase’s use has become much more widespread. Likely, most people using it know that it’s technically redundant. This Internet slang may help some cope with the loss of an important figure with a little bit of social media humor. It’s also worth noting that many people sarcastically post “RIP in Peace” when a celebrity has been the target of a death hoax.
2. Press F to Pay Respects
The “Press F to Pay Respects” death meme comes from the 2014 video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Early in the game, during a “scene” in which the game’s characters are attending a funeral, the game prompts players to press the f key (if they’re playing on a computer) to “pay respects” to the fallen soldier. If a gamer was playing on a console, the game would prompt them to press the X button instead.
The very nature of video games involves interactivity. That said, as video games have become more detailed and sophisticated over the years, it’s become increasingly common for them to include cinematic scenes that don’t allow players to interact with the game while the scenes play out.
The way the developers tried to force interactivity into a funeral scene in this game struck many players as hilariously inappropriate. As a result, “Press F to Pay Respects” became a meme, showing up in social media posts, recreations of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, and more.
3. COVID-19 Grim Reaper
Sometimes, death memes can help us collectively talk about an important topic in a light-hearted way. That topic doesn’t have to be death itself, either. Memes can also give us a way to discuss current events. The COVID-19 Grim Reaper is an example of such a meme.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, attorney Daniel Uhlfelder decided to dress up as the Grim Reaper and walk along Florida beaches where people were ignoring social distancing recommendations. His message was clear: keep doing what you’re doing, and you're going to die.
The media and Internet quickly took notice. Thus, for a few short weeks, the COVID-19 Grim Reaper became both a popular death meme and a funny symbol of a very difficult time in our lives.
4. WebMD Memes
There isn’t one single WebMD death meme. Instead, this is a category of memes poking fun at the way many people who turn to WebMD when they’re beginning to feel ill often end up worrying that they have a deadly disease.
A typical WebMD death meme might consist of a picture of someone looking very serious, concerned, and almost threatening, with the following text:
“Me: It’s just a cough.
Parents: It’s just a cough.
Doctor: It’s just a cough.
WebMD: You have three hours to live.”
In some instances, a specific figure’s death can inspire a meme. For example, when Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, many expressed their grief on Twitter and other social media platforms with a very simple but effective hashtag: “#iSad.”
6. Grumpy Cat’s Death
Grumpy Cat, the cat with a face so, well, grumpy that the Internet couldn’t help but turn her into a meme, was an online sensation for years before her death in 2019.
However, when she did pass, the Internet responded accordingly, ensuring there were nearly as many memes about Grumpy Cat’s death as there were memes about Grumpy Cat’s life. One such meme is an image of several other popular figures who’d recently passed away, such as Stan Lee, Alan Rickman, and Prince, all resting against a backdrop of heavenly clouds, with the caption “Come Join Us” beneath an iconic picture of Grumpy Cat.
7. Carole Baskin Memes
It’s not for the Internet to officially determine whether Carole Baskin actually fed her former husband to any tigers. That said, when Tiger King hit Netflix, it didn’t take long for many viewers to conclude that, conviction or not, she definitely did.
This resulted in more than a few Carole Baskin death memes circulating the Internet in the first half of 2020. In many cases, these were popular image macro and meme formats that people had modified to include Carole Baskin. For example, one features a picture of Baskin in front of a tiger cage, with the text “Feeling cute… might feed my husband to this tiger later.”
8. Funeral Tweets
This category of death memes consists of Tweets (often from comedians or celebrities) that offer funny takes on what are usually very sad events.
One such Tweet, from journalist Dana Schwartz, reads “If you pay me $50 I’ll show up to your funeral but stand really far away, holding a black umbrella regardless of the weather, so that people think you died with a dark and interesting secret.”
Another, from comedian Rob Delaney, reads “Wifi at my uncle’s funeral is a joke.” Yet another (which has started to show up on t-shirts and other products) reads “At my funeral take the bouquet off my casket & throw it in the crowd to see who next.”
9. Lincoln and JFK Coincidences
Memes have existed long before the Internet. They also don’t necessarily need to be funny or ironic. An idea just needs to spread far enough. Consider the example of the eerie coincidences regarding the deaths of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Although the details can vary depending on the source, they point out that both “Lincoln” and “Kennedy” have seven letters, both were shot while with their wives, we know both of their assassins by three names (John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald), Lincoln was in Ford’s Theatre and Kennedy was in a Ford vehicle at the time of their assassinations, and more.
That said, these theorists often include points that are simply untrue. For example, they often claim that Lincoln had recently been in Monroe, Maryland before he was shot, and that a week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe. This is impossible, as Marilyn Monroe died more than a year before Kennedy’s assassination.
10. Funny Funeral & Mourning Memes
The Internet offers plenty of memes that mine funerals and mourning for comedy. For instance, one popular meme is a picture of a (hopefully misplaced) card featuring a picture of a chihuahua in a sombrero beneath the word “ADIOS!” in the sympathy card section of a store.
Another such meme involves a Twitter comedian telling the story of his grandmother’s botched ash scattering. Other such death memes consist of pictures of headstones with funny engravings. Like many of the memes on this list, these types of memes can make the idea of discussing funerals and death much more palatable to some.
11. Dancing Pallbearers
The general public first became aware of Ghana’s “dancing pallbearers” in 2017 when a BBC documentary showcased their impressive moves. Someone saw fit to play an EDM track over the footage, and suddenly, they became one of the Internet’s most popular memes, with many combining footage of the pallbearers with footage of slapstick accidents to heighten the effect.
However, while most memes fade into obscurity eventually, the dancing pallbearers have actually stepped back into the spotlight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve adopted the slogan “Stay at home or dance with us” to warn people of the potential consequences of ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Death Memes: A New Way to Talk About Death
Death memes don’t have to be significant. They can simply be amusing. However, because so many people struggle to talk about death, death memes can also be very useful, offering us an easier way to discuss this universal human experience.
- Link, Devon. “Fact check: A 1964 conspiracy theory misrepresents Lincoln and Kennedy's similarities.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC., 6 June 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/06/fact-check-1964-lincoln-kennedy-comparisons-only-partly-accurate/5311926002/
- “Press F to Pay Respects.” Know Your Meme, Literally Media Ltd., knowyourmeme.com/memes/press-f-to-pay-respects
- “RIP in Peace.” Know Your Meme, Literally Media Ltd., knowyourmeme.com/memes/rip-in-peace
- Srikanth, Anagha. “The Grim Reaper stalking Florida beaches to warn of coronavirus has become a celebrity.” The Hill, Changing America, 7 July 2020, thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/prevention-cures/506196-the-coronavirus-grim-reaper-is-going-on-tour
- Sullivan, Helen. “'Why should you cry?' Ghana's dancing pallbearers find new fame during Covid-19.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 13 May 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/14/why-should-you-cry-ghanas-dancing-pallbearers-find-new-fame-during-covid-19