If you’ve lived in Moab for a while, and if you’re on Instagram, chances are decent you follow the extremely hyper-local satire account @meamsofmoab (the incorrect spelling of “memes” is intentional). The account was started in May 2021 and now has over 1,800 followers; its irregular posts range from comments on niche housing policy to poking fun at mountain bikers.
The account capitalizes on the local community: its niche posts aren’t understood by nearly anyone living outside of the area, and sometimes aren’t understood by its followers either. A post made in September depicted the woman from the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth (1948), but instead of gazing toward a farmhouse, she’s been photoshopped onto the housing development Arroyo Crossing. There’s no caption for the post, so users had to know to recognize both the painting and Arroyo Crossing to know what it meant; one comment reads, “Can we get memes for the common folk?”
The Moab Sun News chatted with the admin—anonymously!—about why the account was started and how they get ideas for jokes.
Moab Sun News: How did “meams” of Moab start? (Your first post is from May 30, 2021).
“Meams”: The gravitational pull of the meme-sphere ultimately was too powerful for me to resist. The world is an absurd place, especially deep in the pandemic times of 2021. I was doom-scrolling enough to kill a horse, and in retrospect, it’s no surprise that the memes started coming back out of me after I took so many in. As for the name, it’s a play on Kyle Mears’ Instagram handle, @mearsofmoab. I was hoping people would confuse me for him, but I suppose that’s not really how the algorithms work.
Moab Sun News: Did you imagine it would get as popular as it is?
“Meams”: No, but it’s not really surprising. The time is ripe for hyperlocal meme accounts. Telluride has three meme accounts, and a population of 2,595 according to Google. That’s one meme account for every 865 residents. Moab has three that I know of, including me. That’s around 1,772 residents for each meme account, not including the population of Grand County or northern San Juan County, which I consider to be technically my turf as well. We’ve got some catching up to do, I think.
Moab Sun News: What’s the operation behind the account? Just one person? Multiple people?
“Meams”: I had some special guest stars at the beginning but it’s been exclusively me for a while now. People send me memes occasionally, and if I think they’re good, I’ll usually post them to Instagram Stories. There are a lot of people who unknowingly support my content, by either talking to me about funny things or giving me perspectives I don’t have firsthand. Your work at this newspaper is very important to me. I can’t be out in the trenches all the time, so I read the paper to keep up with town stuff.
Moab Sun News: How do you come up with content?
“Meams”: How does any artist create work? Occasionally I will intend to make a meme about a specific event or use a specific image. For instance, the election guides from last year were very premeditated. More often, though, I’ll just be going about my day and be struck by an idea that tickles me, and have to get to my meme terminal as fast as possible. To get all Wikipedia on you, memes are “a viral phenomenon, that may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance, each of which influences a meme’s reproductive success. Memes spread through the behavior that they generate in their hosts.” I may have a particularly weak immune system when it comes to this virus, and have served as a good host to spread the contagion of silliness to my followers.
Moab Sun News: Some of your jokes are recurring bits, like the Phil Lyman Phillyman joke. Why keep returning to certain bits? How do the recurring memes build on each other?
“Meams”: Memes are like an evolving organism. Some stay with me and evolve a few times before they die or get picked up elsewhere. Also, half of humor is familiarity. People tend to like recognizing something they’ve seen before, and then building on it or twisting it into something a little bit new. Regarding Phillyman specifically, it’s low-hanging fruit for me. I just kept unconsciously removing the space between his first and last name and seeing something else. I see him like a local mascot. I much prefer reading about what that crazy living sandwich is up to now, to lamenting the ham-handed actions of a politician I dislike.
Moab Sun News: Some of your other jokes are extremely niche. As with any Instagram account, have you ever found yourself making memes you know will be popular, but that you don’t necessarily find funny? Or do you stick to your guns, publishing the niche memes knowing they won’t get as many likes? How do you balance that?
“Meams”: I endeavor to only post things that I think are funny. I’m not so well-followed that I can meme for a living yet, so I really have no motive to post things I don’t like. As for the extremely niche content, there are a few jokes that I expect maybe five people in town chuckled at. I hope that my obscure jokes make people do some Googlin’. If you understand the really weird ones, well, maybe we’re friends in real life. Or maybe you’re a public figure and I’m mad at you.
Moab Sun News: Many of your posts target political figures—Phillyman—and local government objectives, like housing. Do you think memes can be used as a tool for protest?
“Meams”: Definitely. The meme of today is the zine of yesteryear. I believe humor and images are a great way to understand or explore an issue. Making jokes on the internet is a pretty low-stakes way to participate in the local dialogue, though, so I don’t think they replace any of the normal public engagement stuff like showing up for meetings or protests or talking to your neighbors.
Moab Sun News: And building on that question, you’re also never afraid to tag organizations or people mentioned in your jokes. Why is that?
“Meams”: I want people to know I’m talking to them. I want people to respond. I want to live in a town with a healthy culture of satire. I hope to provide a refreshing counterpoint to the Facebook commentary groups.
Moab Sun News: Anything else you want to add?“Meams”: If you’re wondering if I’m also the Grind County (@grindcountyutah) account, I am. I figured it would be good to separate officially sanctioned content from the glut of sillier memes on the main account.