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Meme Court

On the docket: the Crying Jordan Meme.

the look of a guilty man?
the look of a guilty man?

Welcome to Meme Court, where the members of Lookout Landing debate the merits of a given meme and judge them to be of value to society. By reading this sentence you have agreed to take part as a member of the jury; you will consider the deliberations of both sides and decide: is this meme worthy? Or should it be condemned?

Please rise. The Honorable Brendan Gawlowski, B.A., presiding.

BRENDAN: Please be seated. Today, we’ll be hearing the case for continued use of the Crying Jordan meme. Counselor Dubuque, how do you plead?

PATRICK: Your honor, I’m not comfortable with the connotations of the word "plead." It sounds so…

BRENDAN: Counselor, I don’t want to have to ask again.

PATRICK: Your honor, with all due respect, I’m not the one on trial here. But as the prosecution, my colleague Mrs. Preusser and I accuse the defendant, one "Crying" Michael Jordan, of being intentionally unfunny.

BRENDAN: Counselor Ellis et al., how do you plead?

BRENDAN: Counselor ELLIS! (Bangs mini-bat)

MATT: I apologize, good sirs. You see, Crying Jordan and I were busy discussing--should I perhaps say laughing--over the absurdity of this kangaroo court. Actually, I take that back, we were laughing at the funny picture, the picture with the crying basketball man. I plead not unfunny, or uh, funny, or whatever, innocent.

BRENDAN: I will not have my court denigrated in this manner, Counselor -- YOU PUT THAT CRYING JORDAN AWAY!

PATRICK: Mr. Ellis. To begin with, a small question. How would you, sir, define a joke?

MATT: To answer this question, I shall take recourse to that most trustworthy of sources, the great Wikipedia. Your honor, I move to enter exhibit 1.A into the record.

EXHIBIT 1.A: "A joke is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh. It takes the form of a story, usually with dialogue, and ends in a punch line. It is in the punch line that the audience becomes aware that the story contains a second, conflicting meaning.

PATRICK: So by your definition, the quality of a joke, its essence, comes in the surprise in the audience by the connection of two separate concepts?

MATT: I do not believe surprise is a crucial element of a joke’s efficacy.

PATRICK: But your own definition uses the phrase "becomes aware". In order to become aware of a thing they must be aware of it before that point. However small, that shift from not-knowing to knowing is, in some way, a surprise.

MATT: I would argue the arena for awareness exists only within that of the story itself, not the entire metaphysical arrangement. One can be aware that, say, the phrase "The Mets" has historically amounted to quite the popular joke. However, not all stories including the phrase "The Mets," or the concept of The Mets, have included this awareness. Your honor, I move to enter Exhibit 1.B into the record.


PATRICK: Despite the continued lack of success for the New York Mets franchise (and weird timing on this reference, Councilor), I would argue that each season’s failures, being in some way independent of the others, brings a fresh realization, a fresh surprise to the person hearing the joke in question. If the Mets were mathematically eliminated from seasons before their beginning, if their badness were undoubtable and hope eliminated, they would not be funny, but tragic.

But this is a sidestep. My main question: can a joke be funny if there is no surprise at the punchline? If the audience already knows the end?

MATT: With all due respect, counselor, I believe Exhibit 1.B answers your question. While this photograph perhaps already contains the historically humorous connotation associated with the phrase The Mets, it also includes a gigantic plexiglass apple that springs from out of the ground, containing the word: "Mets."

Like its spiritual counterpart in Miami, there is no shock upon the emergence of an enormous cartoon malus domestica within the spectators gathered at Citi Field. There is little surprise when that shiny red dome springs out from under the shadows where it rests. And yet, when that big ol’ fruit pokes its nose out, during a moment of triumphant celebration, it’s funny. There is no surprise. You don’t even need to know about The Mets. And yet, laughter. Unless you are a Mets fan, I guess.

KATE [taking over for PATRICK, who is slumped in a chair, fanning himself with a sheaf of papers]: An oversize cartoon apple majestically rising from center field is funny because it is ridiculous, the incongruity theory writ so large one doesn't even need a punchline. The apple itself embodies the punchline, which makes it a perfect representation of the Mets.

MATT: I would agree.

KATE: However, in recent years, widespread abuse of the joke-without-a-punchline has taken place, thanks in part to Google image search and crude Photoshopping tools. I would like to call into evidence Exhibit 1.C.


In this image, the apple has been replaced by a head known as "the Crying Jordan," to signify the ill fortunes of the New York Mets organization, who somehow--despite appearing in a World Series and possessing a pitching staff that can only be described as an embarrassment of riches--found themselves in the position of being mocked by the glistening sheen of Crying Jordan. This is the lowest, laziest form of humor, a simple substitution cipher, produced by people who aren't thinking too hard for those who don't want to think too hard for their guttural belly laughs.

MATT: Before addressing your unfair critique of @DanGnajerle’s 2015 masterpiece, I would like to draw attention to your own reading of the Mets’ apple. As I have argued, surprise need not be central to a joke’s efficacy--instead a mere unity of, in Wikipedia’s words, "a second, conflicting meaning." Yes, the joke inherent to the apple is that gigantic shiny red fruits don’t have any business peeking out from behind outfield walls like they were Mr. Bean or something.

However, this joke, containing the phrase Mets, represents more than just an absurd apple. It represents decades of pain from fans who wanted nothing more than for their boys to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy instead of a million-dollar fruit sculpture in the outfield. It would not be as funny emerging from the outfield wall of Yankee Stadium, or from the oversized mitt lining McCovey’s Cove out West. That yearning is found here within teary eyes now standing in for the thousands of Mets fans who just watched their team implode--and implode they did. It is precisely this double meaning which elevates Gnajerle’s work beyond the simple, lazy reproduction of the basketball man’s now-infamous weeping. That it has been reproduced ad nauseum, I shall not argue. That every reproduction fails at humor has not been proven.

KATE: I agree with your point that context is key for a joke. Crying Jordan would also not be funny hanging over Safeco and the perpetually hapless Mariners. But would that stop people from doing it? Can a gun not kill as easily in the hands of a layperson as those of a trained police officer? Crying Jordan kills itself every day, a smirking oroboros, because this is the nature of mimetic humor. The few humorous exceptions--I'm trying to think of another funny Crying Jordan and failing--do not justify the existence of the thousands of terrible ones. If it pleases the court, may I present exhibit 1.D:


Sidebar: This image, from the Twitter account of one Peter Blackburn, was bookended with a Pete Carroll/jet fuel can't melt steel beams "joke" and a dirty pants/Chipotle reference. This is the kind of company the Crying Jordan keeps.

DR. ANDREW H. RICE, EXPERT WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE: As Bernard of Chartres noted when discussing his own accomplishments, greatness is oftentimes achieved by standing on the shoulders of giants. However, advances can also be made by standing on giant-sized piles of middling rubble. Sometimes quantity can be used as a replacement for quality. Not every Crying Jordan need be the most thoughtful or creative; as long as some of them are (a fact that has already been admitted by the prosecution), there is a chance that they– either individually or in aggregate—will contribute to the greater good. Six months from now, someone may see Michael Jordan’s crying face pasted onto a stack of pancakes and be inspired to create something beautiful. If this meme is terminated prematurely, as opposed to simply allowing it to run its course naturally, we may very well end up missing out on something Important.

PATRICK: Okay, I feel better now. I must have been out a while, because when I left off we were talking about a terrible meme everyone hates, and now that I’m back we seem to be re-enacting The Republic and censoring all art and literature.

The fun thing about society is that we get to choose what our values are. We can declare something pornographic and, even if the pornographer claims his work has artistic merit, we can draw a line. We have to draw lines. We can’t go into every Crying Jordan meme and say, "Well, this image represents more than just a weeping athlete you’ve already looked at a million times. It says something new about our society, something that has actual value to you, and isn’t just meant to waste your time and clutter your feed because you, the artist, felt it was worth robbing us of seconds of your life to look at." We don’t have time.

I argue that we’re discussing the greater good, not universal good. If you’ve made an actual good Crying Jordan joke, even the brilliant one that adorns this page, understand that it’s too late. But you can probably take those skills and make something actually original, something that isn’t tinged by the pus and decay of a thousand tired punchlines. Your sacrifice will not be in vain.

MATT: You raise an interesting point, Counselor Dubuque. I would, however, question what eventually happens after one produces something "original," which does not "contain the pus and decay of a thousand tired punchlines." Is this an inherent quality to the platonic ideal of the Crying Jordan meme? Or is it a quality added to the meme after its appropriation by ten thousand amateur comedians?

I move to argue, then, that the quality of an agreeable meme--entirely subjective, mind you--is independent of its overuse by the general public. And within the discrete category of agreeable memes, we will find good memes: their numbers count in the hundreds but shall not be noted here, in order to save them from said appropriation, and pus, and decay.

PATRICK: As my colleague Mr. Bishop (who was detained and could not join us) would note, the definition of a meme is something imitated or copied. We can’t say "value the original memes" because this is an oxymoron: by the time it’s become a meme, it’s already too late.

BRENDAN: Councilors, it’s time for closing arguments.

PATRICK: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The defense has taken pains to claim that one good Jordan joke absolves all Jordan jokes, a baffling ethical calculus that the prosecution simply cannot fathom. But though we’ve gone astray, we must face facts: the defense’s definition of a joke, "two conflict meanings with no necessary surprise," is itself an unfunny thing. I can say "Nathan Bishop is a man and is also a railway station," and according to Mr, Ellis’s standards, I have joked. Not only that, but it would continue to be a joke if I repeated that same sentence seventeen times, because your enjoyment of the joke has no relation to its jokeness.

I am not here to dispute Mr. Ellis’ definitions. I am here to tell you that I do not want to hear his jokes. A joke must do more than just make a random connection. It must make us laugh, must provide something new. Repetition does not make good humor. Even the long-standing favorite, the running joke, ultimately gleans its humor out of the pathetic question, "can they really do it again?" We can do better than this, members of the jury. We can ask for more from our humorists. We can censure their laziness, expect them to be funny. We can and we should.

Thank you.

ANDREW: There are countless scenarios throughout history where novel inventions suddenly and unexpectedly burst from the dying embers of an old train of thought. At what point is stagnation definitive? At what point should an idea or a movement or a meme be abandoned or banned from polite conversation? As far as I’m concerned, that is the question that this court must address. Is Crying Jordan done, or is there a chance that it still holds some value? I posit that it still has some utility.

MATT: Just look at the video up there and tell me I’m wrong.

BRENDAN: You’ve heard both sides. Now go find a nice, quiet room, lock yourself in it for at least an hour, and deliberate on the arguments. Afterward, please come back and make your vote. Lookout Landing appreciates your participation in doing your civic duty.