McALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — When a meteorite hit the Rio Grande Valley Feb. 15, hundreds — if not thousands — of people heard its boom.
The creation of memes quickly began.
“As soon as it happened, there were memes being made,” Valley comedian Raymond Orta told ValleyCentral. “That’s the crazy part about the freakin’ Valley is that we are quick, quick, quick with the memes, man, like lightning fast.”
Some memes showed people raiding the wreckage of a UFO. Another meme showed an alien with a to-go order from Delia’s tamales. And there were a meme of local TikTok viral sensation Bronco 956 dancing with an alien.
One meme had aliens asking, “Where did we land?” With another saying, “The Valley.” The response and punchline was “Nambre.”
This sort of meme creation following a news event has been dubbed a “hyper memetic spectacle,” said “The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture” author Bradly E. Wiggins.
As the Valley’s meteor was confirmed in the news, last week’s memes shifted away from aliens to jokes such as “Hailey’s Cuh-met.” One meme showed a face, taken from another popular meme, plastered over a meteor shooting over the McAllen skyline. In another, faces of local celebrities were photoshopped onto the 1990’s blockbuster “Armageddon” theater poster images.
Another meme showed “meteor chunks for sale, still hot” with a photo of charcoal briquettes.
A bakery in McAllen started selling alien conchitas, with one called “cuh-alien.”
These memes are likely “simply a way of [locals] participating in something that’s bigger than themselves,” Wiggins said. “There’s no harm to it. It’s something that people can identify with, the proverbial water-cooler conversation at the office. But that doesn’t really happen as much these days. You have [those conversations] through various platforms, be it from a messaging platform like WhatsApp to TikTok, which is really just one meme after another.”
Many local memes come from Orta himself, who said he will message jokes to two of his graphic artist friends who then produce memes and sends them to Orta to post online. During the Super Bowl, Orta did this to show Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes being treated in the locker room at half time with a “salvila from un veijito“ and on the wall is a random poster of Bronco 956.
“So I love the Valley, because the Valley is a meme unto itself,” Orta said. “The world could be ending, and the Rio Grande Valley would be dropping memes. That’s just who we are. We have no chill, but we have all the chill at the same time.
“So when we make memes,” Orta continued, “it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna let anything happen that’s not gonna let us keep our sense of humor because that’s what we identify with.'”
Anywhere there are resilient people, you’ll find good memes, the comedian said. Even resilient sports enthusiasts, such as Dallas Cowboys fans, have the meme “prenda la vela,” which traces its origins to Orta’s family.
“I think [making memes is] predominantly done in places where poverty is really rampant, because of our pain,” Orta said. “We have to use jokes to, kind of, cover up our pain. And I think that’s where we really thrive here in the Valley. We have a lot of corruption and a lot of things going on, but we never address it. We just joke about it. You know what I’m saying? That’s just who we are.
At their core, memes are a form of expression that seeks to be replicated and shared. They can arise in images, videos and other forms. But sometimes, they are not immediately seen as a meme from outsiders. For example, newcomers might not understand the memetic nature and meanings of common Valley hashtag: #puro956.
The hashtag has been repeated and adapted, becoming longer with forms such as #puroP—–956, #puro956cuh and others.
“And that’s the one thing that’s really cool about these different internet tools, hashtags being one of them, where the local folks can augment the meaning of the of the hashtag to serve itself, kind of changing the joke a little bit more.”
Wiggins agrees that memes can provide a voice for people who feel overlooked in the media or by the government. The expression of memes can provide a form of community-identity building as memes can help people feel like they are joining in on the joke or the moment as a member of a group, Wiggins said.
“The concept or the idea of ‘reality apathy’ is that people are just overwhelmed with problems,” Wiggins said. “There’s a joke to it, sure, but there’s also typically something critical happening. There’s a critique [of power or society].”
Wiggins sees similarities to memes and the Dada art movement of the late 19-teens, after World War I.
“Dadaism was a rejection of any kind of overarching system of thought,” Wiggins said. “It could be religion, capitalism or any kind of -isms. It was saying, ‘Look, [society is] not working. The world is going to s—.”
And that’s what’s happening with memes today, in many cases, in exactly the manner Orta described.
“It’s a way of saying,” Wiggins said, “‘my life is overwhelming to me, but at least I can meme about it.”