The people who claim ownership of Doomer, meanwhile, are pissed. Two weeks after the first Doomer Girl cartoon hit 4chan, the moderators of the r/Doomer subreddit banned her. “Anyone posting doomerette memes will get his post removed and his account will be banned for 3 days,” the announcement read. Once Doomer Girl was added to the mix, the moderators told me, the subreddit had blown up, adding 6,000 new members in a matter of two weeks.
The moderators criticized the new members as a bunch of “normies” who didn’t understand the Doomer lifestyle, or as self-obsessed women eager to get attention by playing dress up. “We don’t want our forum to be invaded and taken over by a bunch of snapchat addicted zoomers, e-girl worshipping simps, and histrionic e-thots looking to expand their collection of orbiters,” one moderator posted. On 4chan, an anonymous user shared a copypasta—a punchy paragraph meant to be copied and pasted wherever relevant—that began, “The doomer girl meme is destroying the whole point of doomerism,” and ended with a reference to Fight Club.
This is the type of internet conflict that reflexively admits its own silliness. While some members of r/Doomer are freaking out, others are mocking them for their inability to relax. But many members do appear to consider this a matter of gravity: The memes that define social identities and shape the borders of a subculture are also the memes that can trigger the most severe defensiveness. “A good part of meme-ing, especially at this level, is gatekeeping and keeping people out,” Matt Schimkowitz, an editor of the internet encyclopedia Know Your Meme told me. “The more spread they see, the more they want to tighten up the ship.”
In the past week or so, there has been some pushback against the moderators’ gatekeeping. The comment section on a recent post making fun of a “cute” and “wholesome” Doomer Girl meme is mixed. Some Doomers share in the original poster’s ire, while others respond flatly: “You cannot copyright a meme.” The question of whether you can copyright a meme, though, has been haunting the internet for years. Matt Furie, the illustrator behind Pepe the Frog, issued dozens of takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and successfully sued Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, for using it in promotional materials. It was an understandable move that fair-use proponents still found “troubling” because it set a precedent for stifling the internet’s fundamental remix culture.
The openness that allows art to be remixed toward detestable political ends is also what allows something hateful to be redeemed. (In a world with strict copyright for images that circulate online, Doomer Girl would have stayed what she was: a mechanism for a bad joke.) The argument going on in r/Doomers is mostly about whether young women have any right to remix things in the first place. As one Reddit user wrote, “Women and normies [are] taking something original and meaningful to a specific group of men and making it about themselves.” But the truest tradition of memes has always been pilfering things from boring places with rigid rules, redoing them, and creating chaos.