Why We're Looking at Pictures of Sad Brokers Again

Unlike 2008, the sad pictures meme seems even more pervasive

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Everywhere we look, we see sad traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Internet meme--popularized on blogs during the 2008 financial crisis--has been revived. Only this time, the instant galleries of grimacing Wall Street traders in suits have gone mainstream (see: Seven sad stock traders).

This morning, after scrolling through a sad faces on The Huffington Post's business vertical and clicking through a carousel of depressing sad broker slides that The New York Times has been using as the main visual element on its home page, we wound up at a Dealbook profile of the man behind the Brokers With Hands on Their Faces Blog, which Mashable credited in 2008 for morphing "desperate" brokers into the "New Lolcats." How did the meme go from Tumblr to the Times homepage?

We'd have to think that the dramatic growth of Tumblr--the host of "Sad Broker" blogs--is one reason. The blog network went from seeing 255 million pageviews in July of 2009 to 250 million pageviews in a single day in May earlier this year. And the 2010 embrace that traditional media gave the platform allowed news outlets to (sometimes) seamlessly fold in reblogged viral content on the official company account. Also in favor of "sad brokers": online media is trending toward the HuffPost styled "War Headline" image, which prefers an anguished looking trader gazing into the distance for dramatic effect.

Logistics aside, when asked by Dealbook how about the revived popularity of his site, Matthew R. Robison, the creator of the "Brokers With Hands On Their Faces" blog, gave a more visceral response:

"With these photos there are a number of layers to laugh at — the poor broker, the photographer waiting to take that perfect photo of the poor broker, the media who love to run with these photos," he said. "And then there’s me, this guy who collected them and made a blog, which is totally ridiculous as well. People can laugh at whichever part they want to laugh at or maybe they’re not laughing at all. Maybe they think it’s beautiful, or horrible, or stupid. All of them are probably right."

Just looking at Robison's blog or the similar Sad Guys on Trading Floors, it's easy to feel all the above emotions: maybe a bit of schadenfreude, amusement at the the goofier photos, and sheer misery realizing that you and they are witnessing a depressing moment. But, part of the sad broker meme's lifecycle, as City File noted during the 2008 meltdown, is that the bout of sad pictures are inevitably replaced by grinning-men-in-suits the moment the Dow posts a sizable jump. Memes, just like the markets, are (hopefully) cyclical.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.