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7 memes that defined 2021, so far

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As the pandemic begins to lighten up in the United States, the memes are getting better.

2020 was particularly bleak, in global news and in internet culture. 2021 didn’t start much better, but as more of the general public is vaccinated, memes are coming back.

From new CDC guidelines to disrupted trade routes, here are seven memes that defined this year so far.

1. Bernie at inauguration

Bernie Sanders’ Inauguration Day get-up was also 2021’s inaugural meme. The Vermont senator’s down jacket and oversized mittens — a gift from a Vermont teacher who hand-knit them from recycled sweaters — were far from the formal dress coats spotted on other guests, but they seemed to keep Sanders warm as he sat alone during the ceremony. Sanders’ crossed arms and disinterested expression went viral as meme makers Photoshopped him onto the New York City subway, the moon, and iconic pieces of art.

2. It’s March again

Between a devastating pandemic, record wildfires, an exhausting election cycle, and a worldwide mental health crisis, the last year seemed like a collective fever dream. As February drew to a close, social media users refused to believe that the world was coming up on a year of social distancing. Nobody was ready for March again.

3. Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview

Oprah Winfrey’s explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exposed the British royal family as a racist organization that denied Markle mental health treatment and pulled the couple’s security detail when they stepped back from senior roles in the monarchy. As the couple recounted anecdotes about “the Firm” — the British royal family’s senior staff and the associated institutions — Oprah’s appalled expressions became viral fodder. Screenshots of the interview were ripe for meme formats.

4. The ship stuck in the Suez Canal

A wayward cargo ship ran aground in the Suez Canal amid high winds and low visibility, interrupting 12 percent of the world’s trade. Twitter users weren’t particularly optimistic when the Suez Canal Authority released photos of its efforts to dislodge the massive ship, which involved eight tugboats and a comically small excavator. Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie estimated that the stuck ship cost the Canal $14 to 15 million in daily revenue each day the passage remained blocked, but at least it gave way for excellent memes.

5. Vaxxed and waxed

With vaccination rates skyrocketing through the spring, this summer’s motto is “vaxxed and waxed.” Social distancing isn’t over — the pandemic is still a risk as COVID variants circulate through the world — but the fully vaccinated can ease into gathering in groups and go maskless around other fully vaccinated people. As the world slowly opens up, stay vaxxed and waxed for the ultimate hot girl summer.

6. The CDC says

The Centers for Disease Control updated guidelines for the fully vaccinated in May, inspiring a new meme format on Twitter. If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can resume daily activities, which apparently include song lyrics, movie plots, and references to other meme formats.

7. Anakin and Padmé

A scene from Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones resurfaced last month as a cheeky four-panel meme format. The set-up and punchline take place in the two panels, and Padmé’s horrified response has been used for all-too-relatable reflections on healthcare, vaccination rates, and music tastes that should absolutely be red flags.

2021’s memes started out dry — the year of social isolation hit online culture, too — but as the world returns to normal, the memes are back.

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