Obsessed – Part 1: The Peculiar Magic of George Washington Memes

There is so much weirdness I think about all the time, varied and seemingly disparate things running through my mind. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)  I’ve always been inclined to dig further into the shiny bits and bobs that catch my eye, but what about when those things are…not too deep to begin with? For example, what stupid phrases could I caption every medieval painting in this gallery with? What happens when a stalagmite would rather be a stalactite? Why does pro tennis player John Isner appear both extremely boring and also evil as he is tall (6’10”)? I don’t shy away from this, as anyone I’ve ever talked to has learned. I’ve embraced the shallows. I’ll forever be drawn to what are perhaps life’s dumber moments, its lower brows, its cruise ship-caliber offerings. And I need an outlet for these preoccupations. To borrow from one of my first obsessions, what follows the first in a series of dispatches from the Mixed-up Files of Ms. Claire G. Brindley.

I can’t learn about history without trying to insert a voice into historical figures’ heads. I can’t go to museums or landmarks without wanting to know what all the people involved were really thinking. Take when my sister and I recently went to Glensheen in Duluth, MN – we lost our minds making up things for the people in the old mansion’s paintings to say. (Try it sometime at a historic estate near you; it’ll really spice things up.) We probably remember so much more about the place’s history than we would have otherwise, albeit through a crazy lens of our own imaginings. This is why George Washington memes are so amusing and absorbing to me.

The internet tells me that these words in Comic Sans imposed on historical renderings of a certain Founding Father are called “Sassy George Washington.” Not what I’d prefer to call them – I like to think that these are the kinds of thoughts that went through the man’s brain as he commanded forces in the Revolutionary War, crossed the Delaware on a fancy barge, and struck epic poses for history. Through it all, he gets annoyed at his coworkers, has mad donut cravings, and he just wants to dance. So more like “George is just like us.”

In this world, Washington is a crabby man-child who would like some animal crackers and some peace. A vaunted figure is brought down a few pegs, but not to any detriment. (You can read more about how many enslaved people lived at Mount Vernon over the years for that.) Far from an idealized figurehead, he’s way more fun in these memes, a flawed human who could use a nap after ushering a new nation into the world. Midwifery is hard work, George would like you to know.

I especially like that these memes call out the ridiculousness inherent in almost all George Washington art – he gesticulates on muscly steeds, emotes in pastels, and radiates powdered wig holiness. This art in the wild is hyperbole at its finest. For example, the Capitol Building’s rotunda fresco depicts him ascending to heaven, becoming a god, its figures measuring up to 15 feet tall. And the National Museum of American History has a statue of him, seated, wearing just a toga and some rock-hard abs. Oh, and a pair of Jesus sandals. He’s pointing to heaven with one hand and holding a sword in the other, ready to hand over power.

The Apotheosis of Washington, Constantino Brumidi / George Washington, Horatio Greenough

It’s all ripe for farce. So the fact that the random quotes coming from George in these memes also have no bearing in anything but the impressions of people who never knew him echoes that the real artworks themselves do not depict any true events with accuracy. They take myths and expand on them, and there’s more than one direction for that. We’re looking up, down, and sideways a rabbit hole, and we may as well enjoy it.

What are you obsessed with? Tell me and I’ll write about it 🙂

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