In November, the surreal meme creator @surrealvault decided to shutter her merch shop, which had existed for only two days. Though she’d originally seen the store as a viable way to monetize her page, she ended up feeling uncomfortable with the idea. “Surrealism exists to confuse, amaze, inspire and entertain,” she wrote on Instagram. “It should not be a medium for me to earn money.”
What constitutes a surreal meme is hard to explain, but once you’ve seen a few, you begin to recognize common signifiers. There’s the Zalgo text, the Clip Art fonts, the recurring characters like Meme Man and Orang. Most importantly, there’s the impenetrable irony. When you look at a surreal meme, you feel a little disoriented even if you think it’s funny, because you’re not sure what you’re laughing at. Don’t feel bad if you don’t quite get it: A concise definition of “surreal meme” does not exist.
Surreal memes are based on a concept called “layers of irony,” which, according to Know Your Meme, stemmed from a four-panel comic on a Facebook page called Special meme fresh. (The page is still active.) The idea deals with a common plight among meme enthusiasts: Marred by brands and diluted by ubiquity, meme culture has become so stupid that there’s no way to enjoy it in its mainstream state. If you want to make a meme that is truly e