Sure, most of what you see on the internet — the arguing and outrage and depressing news and all manner of other digital diseases — can feel like a boot to your trachea.
And yet, every now and then, the internet provides moments of positivity and humor, even the occasional morsel of togetherness. We are here today to remember and celebrate those gifts bestowed on us in 2018.
We considered many memes that provided short-term entertainment but appealed to too particular a niche audience. Our honorable mention list includes words that would appear entirely nonsensical to those who don’t spend a good amount of their time browsing Instagram and Twitter: Is This a Pigeon, They Did Surgery on a Grape, various “A Star Is Born” memes, Thank U, Next, Surprised Pikachu and the time more than 100 goats got loose in Idaho.
[Revisit the five best internet moments of 2017, a year that included BBC Dad, Knife Kid and a dancing hot dog.]
Here are this year’s shining internet moments.
We can all come together and agree: That duck is magnificent.
When a Mandarin duck mysteriously appeared in Central Park in October, New Yorkers were enraptured by its cornucopia of colors and its ZZ Top-ian duck-beard. The banks of the pond were lined with hundreds of fans elbowing each other for a photo.
Its origin story remains a mystery. The Mandarin duck is native to East Asia, no zoos have come forward to claim a missing duck, and no one has fessed up to keeping it as an illegal pet.
After extensive media coverage, the rest of the world fell in love, just as the New Yorkers had. It was a celebrity that couldn’t possibly betray us. It offered guiltless objectification. It couldn’t be inserted into the culture wars, making it as foreign to the news cycle as it was to Manhattan. It was not a battlefield. It was just a hot duck.
This, however, was a battlefield. And how.
In May, a high school student posted an audio clip on Instagram and Reddit, asking: Do you hear “Yanny” or “Laurel”? The question rapidly became an international obsession, as no one could believe it was even a question. How could anyone possibly hear the other one?
Forget the politics or sports allegiances of Gritty for a moment. Just look into his eyes. Look into his googly, unblinking eyes.
Is it terror you feel? Or is it the feeling of finally being seen?
Gritty was unveiled as the mascot of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers in September, and at first he was greeted with confusion. The Flyers wanted him “to be somebody you wanted to high-five, but not hug,” said Brian Allen, a concept artist who sketched out its design.
Mission accomplished. He was described by the Philadelphia City Council as a “ghastly empty-eyed Muppet” and a “shaggy orange Wookiee-esque grotesquerie,” and yet, he was soon beloved.
Beyond Philadelphia, Gritty landed in a sweet spot of absurdity: He was perfect for the internet without feeling too focus-group-designed for it. He later became associated with left-wing politics — an association he neither asked for nor accepted — but Gritty stands on his own.
‘American Chopper’ meme
When arguing on the internet, people frequently simplify and distort the opposite side’s position, if they address it at all. The goal is usually to dunk on the people who are wrong, not engage with them. But in this shining meme, which was popular in March and April, we were forced to see the other side.
Based on a 2009 episode of “American Chopper,” a reality TV show that went off the air in 2010, the meme presents both sides of a legitimate argument. In these five panels, there is no comedy unless both people are making some decent points.
Somehow, a model for healthy debate on the internet included the image of a man throwing a chair in disgust.
In November, we met Knickers.
Knickers was a very big steer — not a cow, though most of the internet knows him as “the big cow” — in Australia who dodged certain slaughter when no one would buy him at auction because he was too big to fit in anyone’s farm equipment.
He beat the system. But mostly, he was just fun to look at. That was all we needed.