Looking through Facebook today I stumbled upon four wine memes in a row -- gifs with oversized wine glasses, women sobbing comically into wine -- funny and relatable.
One of them said, "Here's to friends with the same taste in wine, and different tastes in men", with The Golden Girls clinking enormous glasses of red wine together. My friends that posted or tagged each other in these videos all work in mental health; they're smart, insightful, high-achieving people who I respect and admire.
So, why is this a thing, and why does it seem to be so prolific among clever people? A couple of years ago, publicly sharing a wine meme would have been unusual for anyone who had some kind of investment in looking responsible. Promotion of an alcoholic beverage was reserved for people who wore Jack Daniels beanies and had stubby coolers with vaguely sexist statements on them.
Memes have been a relatively recent phenomenon and their success seems to depend on how relatable they are (such as, the recent one of a child being horrified when someone starts eating their chips) and how edgy they can be (memes about drinking, embarrassing drunken scenarios and Tinder would be examples of this).
Memes seem to be a way of representing or symbolising something that is either too boring or too controversial to put into words -- somewhere between a poem and an emoticon. The wine memes that seem to be the most popular always involve drinking to excess, and some kind of extreme display of emotion -- the ultimate representation of what it's like to drink a lot.
What's behind the wine memes is friendship and connection -- we are signalling to friends and colleagues about a shared experience.
One thing's clear, the culture has shifted, perhaps in a good way, towards not caring as much about what others think and being able to share vaguely inappropriate content. Just like the Jack Daniels beanie signifies a person really, really likes Jack Daniels and wants the world to know it; wine memes and coffee cups with 'wine time' on them help us to craft a certain type of identity.
What is a woman who likes wine like? Perhaps she is busy, overworked, stressed out. Perhaps she needs some 'me time' and wine is the best way to achieve this. You could almost see the proliferation of wine memes as a new way for people to have a voice. But what exactly are we saying?
"I'm exhausted and having a terrible week, but I don't want to share that because nobody really wants to hear it."
Or: "I really love wine because it gives me the opportunity to take some time for myself after I've given everything to my family, friends and work."
Or: "I love spending time with my friends and getting really silly after a couple of wines, and I want to remind them of how much fun we had."
The wine memes themselves aren't really the problem. It is obvious from the women tagging other women -- friends, colleagues, family -- that it's a way to connect, a way to say "I miss you" or "let's hang out" or "remember when we had that awesome night". What's behind the wine memes is friendship and connection -- we are signalling to friends and colleagues about a shared experience.
And if it's about that, why let wine take all the credit? Yes, it was there at the time -- and perhaps lowered your inhibitions enough so that you could have deep and meaningful conversations with friends. But so was music, and probably French onion dip, and likely some kind of couch -- and we don't make couch memes. As we know, wine by itself, in bad company, is just wine. It is the people behind the experiences that are a make or break.
Wine memes disturb me because they glorify wine. Wine is just a bunch of off-grapes that cause our brains to release chemicals which turn wine into something that we worship, think about, talk about. Wine has become the focus, not the friendships behind it. Our drinking culture is shifting away from drinking to excess, but one group that is actually increasing its alcohol consumption is women between the ages of 21 and 35.
I wouldn't dream of saying down with wine memes. In fact, I find comically large wine glasses as funny as the next person. My point is that it might be helpful to look a bit deeper when we are sharing memes or participating in them.
Perhaps it is saying something about modern female identity, that we make jokes about the sweet embrace of alcohol, while biding our time until 5pm when it feels okay to pour that wine.
Now, more than ever, women have a voice and a platform, one which is growing larger every day. It might be a good time to examine our relationship with alcohol, and figure out why, when the rest of the country is moving away from it, we are gravitating towards it, with open arms and excessive displays of emotion (and oversized wine glasses).
Perhaps it is just that we care less about what people think, and want to live our lives on our terms. Or, perhaps we are trying to say something very important, and don't quite yet have the words to say it.