Finding Meaning in the Mannequin Challenge

Is it just a coincidence that the No. 1 song in the country owes its popularity to people hitting pause on history?

Twitter / HillaryClinton

Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” is the No. 1 song in the country, thanks to a trend in which people fantasize about being frozen in time as if the software that runs all of existence has crashed, or as if a new Vesuvius has encased everyone forever in ash. Perhaps you understand the appeal already.

#TheMannequinChallenge began in late October when students at a Jacksonville high school filmed themselves pretending to be stuck motionless, mid-pose, as if they were modeling slacks at Macy’s. The clip gained traction online and other people started to make their own versions, many set to the bubbling-up rap track “Black Beatles” for no real reason at all. (It’s my favorite song,” the 17-year-old who first paired the tune and the trend told The New York Times.) Even the greatest haters of internet culture, even those who somehow see signs of civilizational decline in planking and the running man, have to admit the meme is a pretty joyful thing, capturing football teams, gymnastic squads, and dogs turning life into fresco.

But the challenge has, like so many memes before it, leapt from an expression of teenage boredom to a marketing gimmick for adults, making its way into political campaigns and TV ads. In doing so, it may have started to take on some queasy significance for anyone recently yearning to to hit pause on history. The kids who make these videos are freezing themselves in a braggy, fun moment they’ll never get back. So are the pro-sports teams that have gone mannequin during victory celebrations after a game. So did the Hillary Clinton campaign, which filmed a chipper still-life featuring Bon Jovi just before Election Day. Watching these videos is like pretending there’s no future to worry about at all.

You can go further with the reach for significance if you’re in the mood for a low-stakes Twitter fight. Megan Suttles at Kentucky Sports Radio compares the meme to such attention-seeking millennial pleasures as “going to brunch on Sunday or getting the donuts with the prettier sprinkles,” epitomizing “our dependence on technology and documenting life experiences and not actually experiencing them,” and reminding us of the general crappiness of human beings in the fact that the people in the videos can’t even manage to not blink for a minute.

Rae Sremmurd, for whom the unplanned exposure is a windfall, is not complaining. As a party-starting duo whose members were born in 1993 and 1995, it was probably only a matter of time before their generation-specific sound met a generation-specific fad like this one. “Black Beatles” carries on the template that characterized their breakout hit “No Flex Zone,” with a Mike Will Made It beat suited for a specific kind of leaning and head bobbing and with the two rappers and Gucci Mane weaving ad-libs and boasts into something weirdly hummable. Paul McCartney, a participant in the Mannequin Challenge, doesn’t disapprove of them calling themselves the black Beatles, but if you do, too bad: “Haters mad for whatever reason,” goes one of the song’s refrains. Stand still and care less—pop culture, November 2016.