October 2022

There’s No Place Like Ohio

The State That Represents The Modern American Absurd in Memes

There’s No Place Like Ohio: The State That Represents The Modern American Absurd in Memes
About a month ago, an Ohio man named Sean went to Las Vegas and found his doppelgänger swimming next to him in a casino pool, wearing the same glasses, hat and neckbeard. Being a Redditor, Sean decided to exploit the once-in-a-lifetime moment for content, taking a picture with him that became a viral post on /r/funny. Inherently, talk shows like The Today Show swooped down on the moment like Ellen feasting on Damn Daniel. When crafting the perfect headline, The Today Show went with “Ohio dad meets his doppelgänger in Las Vegas pool,” setting the scene by contrasting “Ohio” and “Las Vegas,” which by 2022, have both become synonymous with absurdity in American pop culture.

Las Vegas’ parallels to absurdity have a longer history. It’s basically a town that shouldn’t exist, only created because of one man, Howard Hughes, who in the late 1960s, pumped $300 million dollars into the desert railroad town, making a city based on spectacle, sin and (well) absurdity. Las Vegas drew the attention of wealthy magnates from America and elsewhere, embodying the most egregious extreme of the American dream for tourism profits; Hughes had the funds, so he made the place “too big to fail.”

Of course, the most notable example of Las Vegas’ absurdist notoriety comes from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which through both print and film crafted a mysticism surrounding the city, thereby fostering a widely acknowledged perception, which by 2022, became too trite to reference outright. Emphasizing Las Vegas as absurd in conversation became a “normie” thing to do; it was too obvious and too reachable.

That’s why there aren't a lot of memes about Las Vegas in an absurdist context. As its cliché became saturated in the late 1990s, it died before memes were even added to pop culture. Memes arguably became more invasive to the collective consciousness than books or movies in the 21st century. Of course, there are memes about every place in America, most commonly concentrated into “@[insert place name here]shitposting” meme pages, whose followers are the citizens of said niche.

Some regions have transcended their local meme statuses, becoming widely accepted clichés that haven’t oversatured quite yet. The most prominent example of this is Ohio. 

Many meme creators haven’t been to Ohio despite them making memes about it. With one search on Google Images, “Ohio” results in photographs of Columbus, Cleveland and Cinncinati which, in all fairness, look CGI generated. Compared to Google Image searches for most American cities, the photos of Ohio’s big three cityscapes rarely include a single pedestriatan or car moving freely. If anything, the emptiness of this immediate aesthetic leads to curiosity and creative wiggle room.

Internet rapper Lil B knew about this exploitable, cultural rift in Ohio before anyone when he recorded “Swag Like Ohio” in 2011. If anyone knows how to subvert the mundane into something alt its Lil B, whose online presence has always been cryptic to convey both lunacy and self-awareness, leading to and founding the aesthetic modes of modern-day, sober schizoposting. The Based God knew he was surfacing some underlying, American truth by associating Ohio as a “middle place,” ironically emphasizing its “swag” and “bitches,” and doing it all through the gise of trap music, ultimately using all of these conflicting, American signifiers to create something absurd, untouchable and limitless.

If Las Vegas is an actual desert, than Ohio is a cultural desert. The landscape of its “scene” is widely unknown. Geographically, it exists east of the Midwest and west of the east coast, finding itself as a “suburb state,” as if the combined force of Chicago, Detroit, New York and the Midwest’s cultural signifiers had a commuter signifier who needed to be a metaphorical train ride away from their influences. The result is farmland with strip malls, being the middleground between rural and urban. This is evident in the existence of its three, major cities within its small borders, which are all comparatively small to the rest of America’s cities and also comparatively devoid of life.

Therefore, partying in Ohio, like Lil B suggests, is ultimately akin to “ironic memes” which are all about subverting every vestige of culture no matter how mundane or obtuse. In fact, the more mundane and obtuse the subculture, the more effective the irony.

Roughly two years ago, in 2020, Ohio memes reached a peak. This started with the “Ohio vs.The World” trend which satirically likened Ohio as a threat, planning to take over the world and spreading its borders over every sovereign nation. This led to the famous “Wait, It’s All Ohio?” meme that pinned two astronauts against each other; one, knowledgable of Ohio’s reign and the other, helplessly unaware of its danger.

Ohio memes were everywhere, whereby the end of 2020, multple news publications, including ones that didn’t often cover memes, were well aware of the Ohio trend. Mel Magazine was one of the more internet-savvy publications to cover it, with digital culture writer Miles Klee writing, “Ohio is a metaphor for the monoculture, the forces that homogenize diverse elements into a single middling product.” He namedropped fast food, Marvel movies, college sports, classic rock and suburbs “as far as the eye can see,” as if Breezewood, Pennsylvania were an entire state. Ultimately, he argued that Ohio was a microcosm of America, therefore becoming a reference which is easily exploitable within internet humor. Klee’s summary of 2020 Ohio memes did the trend justice, however, the evolution of Ohio memes moved passed what he had originally stated.

Ohio memes lasted going into 2021 but a dominant trend didn’t emerge en masse until mid-2022 on TikTok. The key progression was the inclusion of creeypasta signifiers. The trend’s been dubbed “Can’t Even X In Ohio” and takes Slenderman-esque or Cloverfield-esque videos, pairs them with the setting of Ohio and uses Black American lingo to convey a sense of mild annoyance about a catastropic or nightmarish event. Imagine taking a nap in Cincinnati and waking up to an alien race beaming from your ceiling. The meme satirically suggests that this was normal in Ohio. Therefore, the creepiness a further level of mysticism to the idea of Ohio.

The “Average Ohio Citizen” also became a meme, which is more often than not represented as some Haunted Mound variant – a greasy, internet-pilled 4channer ready to die.

Again, the creepy undertone of Ohio’s memetic perception is evident in the signifiers.

What really goes on there? It asks the viewer. What really goes on in the place that represents America’s epitome? It romanticizes it (any sort of memeification is romanticization). It wants to represent the sublime of Ohio by folding at any further explanation of its aura. Instead, the meme creator results to the untouchable, creepy video or image, letting the viewer do all of the heavy lifting and be humorously scared of Ohio’s dark powers, which ultimately, represent the dark powers of America’s, capitalist epitome.

The Today Show did the same sort of viral gymnastics when simplifying Sean the Redditor’s post into their headline, “Ohio dad meets his doppelgänger in Las Vegas pool: ‘We are definitely living in a simulation.’” Whether the Today Show writer was cognizant of their choice or not, the combination of all three pop culture concepts – Ohio, Las Vegas and Simulation Theory – emphasizes the unspoken relationship between all three.

Ohio memes, made by people who have never been to Ohio for people who have never been to Ohio, ultimately have nothing to do with Ohio, but rather, have everything to do with the world’s evolving concept of the American absurd.

click here to read this article in the October 2022 Meme Insider issue.