In a recent post on Courtney Perkins’s Instagram account, two gray-haired women stand with their arms around each other, their gazes purposeful, their mouths unsmiling. It’s not clear who they are or what they’re doing, but the two have planned their outfits for the occasion: One woman is wearing a turquoise T-shirt that says I get us out of trouble in a white block print. Next to her, the second woman’s coral shirt declares, I get us into trouble. She’s also wearing sunglasses, presumably because she’s the cool one.
To make the photo into a meme, Perkins, a 24-year-old comedy writer living in Los Angeles, divvied up the 12 zodiac signs under the two shirts’ proclamations. She then posted the finished product to @notallgeminis, an astrology-meme account she created in 2017 that now has nearly half a million followers. The comments underneath the post are full of thousands of people, mainly young women, tagging the Thelmas to their Louises with messages like “thank u for looking after me n my heart.”
Different corners of the internet are devoted to different pastimes: yelling about current events, posting vacation photos, sharing recipes. Each medium tends to have its own conventions about how to appropriately express emotion, which might mean ironic detachment on Twitter, placid domesticity on Facebook, or political rage pretty much anywhere. But research shows that young Americans are acutely aware of their own emotional struggles and those of their peers, and many of them seem to want an online home for their more tender thoughts. In the past two years, millions of them have found a conduit to talk to one another about their real lives: massively popular meme accounts and newer micro-social apps, all devoted to astrology.