Five Famous Movie and TV Scenes People Misunderstand Because of Memes
You know what they say: A GIF says a thousand words. Words are hard, so when you need to dash off a quick response, it’s tempting to fall back on the universal language of pop culture. Sometimes, though, the true meaning of the scenes from movies and TV shows that we all recognize from the replies can get completely lost in the battle for the best clapback. Scenes like those from…
What It Means: Exactly what it says. When someone’s getting all superior on you, you drop this bad boy on ‘em to let them know the real score. Don Draper always had a badass zinger for moments like this. That’s why he’s an icon of masculinity.
What It Actually Means: He’s an icon of masculinity for the kind of men who regard subtext as artsy bullshit. Of course, Draper is as broken as the falling man in the opening credits once he hits the ground, and his insecurities run deeper than his sultry baritone. He’s 100 percent full of shit when he says he doesn’t think about the other character in this scene, copywriter Michael Ginsberg, and he knows it. He spends the entire episode being jealous of and sabotaging him; he thinks about him constantly. What this meme actually communicates is “My ego won’t let me admit how much I envy you.” If anything, Ginsberg is the model of masculinity here, confident in his talents but still choosing to be the bigger man. Well, at least until the whole severed nipple thing.
What It Means: Orson Welles’ forceful applause couldn’t be clearer. You’ve made such a good point (or done such a good TikTok dance or deep-throated such a good entire pineapple) that the viewer is left with no choice but to throw their meat flaps together so violently you’d think they were fighting.
What It Actually Means: “You suck, but I’m powerful enough to convince everyone else that you don’t.” In this scene of Citizen Kane, the resident in question is watching his shiny new wife perform in the opera house he’s built for her, to the boredom and discomfort of everyone else in the audience. (She sounds alright to us, but we’re impressed by particularly on-key seals.) When he finds her reception lackluster, he starts angry clapping, more to chastise the audience than to show his appreciation to his lady love. It doesn’t work — his own newspaper trashes her, even though, again, she’d be the star of any karaoke bar. But make no mistake, this GIF is a rare instance of applause that’s also a threat.
Game of Thrones
What It Means: “Bless your heart.” Everyone knows this face. It’s the one you put on when you’re seated next to the conspiracy uncle at Thanksgiving, run into an ex and tell them they look greeeeeat or have to convince a toddler to give you back your car keys. It’s a face that says, “I have to be nice to you, but in my head, I am shoving an entire pineapple down your throat.”
What It Actually Means: “I laugh at my own jokes.” We’ve all tried to forget Season Eight, but given how recent it was, it’s amazing that no one remembers the real reason Emilia Clarke made this face. Daenerys may very well have come to this conversation with Sansa Stark wishing to suffocate her with tropical fruit, but the same power trip that led her to flash-fry a whole city makes her think she can win Sansa over with feigned “I’m fucking your brother” bonding. She says Jon is only the second man she’s ever truly trusted, and when Sansa asks who the first was, she responds, “Someone taller.” Then she giggles like she made Westeros’ first joke, which may be true.
That’s all it is: She’s just laughing at her own joke. It only became a meme after a random Twitter user posted the screenshot asking for captions, and to be fair, it is the perfect face for expressing barely concealed contempt. If only Clarke were better at smiling.
What It Means: “You’re a hypocrite.” It can be self-deprecating, like when you scold the cat for eating out of last night’s pizza box, or other-deprecating, like when a politician who rails against “groomers” is caught spending too much time in middle school parking lots. It’s basically the webslinger calling the kettle Spider-Man.
What It Actually Means: “You’re an imposter.” This might be the only meme that goes all the way back to the 1960s, to an episode of the first Spider-Man animated series when an art thief impersonates the superhero to frame him for his crimes. It’s a pretty shortsighted plan, especially when Spider-Man shows up to a sting operation to catch the criminal, and it’s also not a unique scene. You could use any of the dozens of TV shows and movies that end with a “Shoot him, I’m the real me!” predicament. But we know what those scenes mean, while no one under the age of 80 watched this series, so for all we knew, Spider-Man really was accusing Spider-Man of being Spider-Man. We now have footage of actual Spider-Men pointing at each other. In other words, problem solved.
What It Means: “Wake up to reality, specifically the reality that society is out to get cishet white men.” In The Matrix, “taking the red pill” releases you from the simulation in which humanity is imprisoned, but it’s been co-opted as a symbol of the men’s right’s movement and various other unsavory conservative circles who insist we live in a simulation where women and minorities are people, apparently.
What It Actually Means: “Wake up to reality, specifically the reality that trans people exist.” You could be forgiven for missing the symbolism surrounding gender identity in the film because the Wachowski sisters intentionally buried it, but you’d be a pretty bad nerd if you didn’t know the writers and directors of The Matrix came out as trans women in 2012 and 2016, respectively. They’ve since confirmed that the red pill was an explicit metaphor for transition, and Lilly Wachowski will tell you to fuck right off if you’re a famous conservative who’s somehow still in the dark about it.
Oh, the irony.