“The soul of man is immortal and imperishable” – Plato
Resurrection and rebirth remain a mainstay of ancient mythology and modern tropiness; Achilles was carried from the flames of his funeral pyre into immortality, the nymph Daphne lived on as a sacred laurel tree and that dog in “A Dog’s Purpose” kept dying and being reborn as a new dog in order to find its original owner (full disclosure, I once sobbed to this movie on a plane). Recently, the cliché found a new home; on Sept. 7, influencer and My Chemical Romance-cosplayer Trisha Paytas announced on Twitter, “1 cm dilated! Woo hoo!” The next day, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch in history, died peacefully at Balmoral. Social media was ablaze with joking speculation that the Queen would be reincarnated as Paytas’s then-unborn child.
But alas, Trish was still pregnant. On Sept. 9, she took to Instagram herself, writing “Sorry to the royal family and my baby” alongside a picture of her bump. But the momentum had taken off; the internet had latched onto the joke. As so often happens, the bit took on a life of its own, entirely separate from the verity of the situation.
The joke’s inception can be traced to TikTok. On Feb. 14, Paytas announced she was pregnant. Two days later, a video describing how Elizabeth was “holding on for dear life so she doesn’t get reincarnated as Trisha Paytas’ baby” went viral on the platform. The joke eventually died out, before roaring back to life in early September, when a flurry of memes about the alleged reincarnation of the Queen as Malibu Barbie Paytas-Hacmon flooded the internet.
It’s no secret that meme culture has risen to internet prominence over the last decade as a pithy, short-form way to spread jokes and news around the online world; a friend admitted to me yesterday that she found out about Brexit via a meme (she lives in London). Memes are often downplayed as silly, brainless or inane. Yet, as with any form of media, they say something about the culture they arise from.
The Queen Elizabeth memes struck me not just because some of them were really funny and also in really poor taste, but because on some level they signal the enduring influence of the late monarch. The fact that the Queen’s death pervaded a form of pop culture so quintessential to Gen Z’s online experience speaks both to her undeniable importance over the past century and to modern disillusionment with aristocracy.
It’s no secret that Gen Z has caught on to the anti-imperialist tide. Various memes reference Queen Elizabeth’s death with jokes about the contestants on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a photoshopped picture of the Lisa Rinna M&M at Balmoral and that one really funny photo of an old lady in a lavender coat clinging onto a wrought-iron fence. You know the one.
And, of course, Malibu Barbie Paytas-Hacmon. The very equating of the late queen with the daughter of Trisha Paytas — who is known for controversy-laden mukbangs, an OnlyFans account called OnlyTrish and a song called “I Love You Jesus” which sounds exactly like you’d expect it to — feels like a sign of the times.
The essence of the joke, of course, lies in its irreverence. To insert the 96-year-old monarch into the life of a YouTuber with an EP called “Daddy Issues” and a “My Strange Addiction” episode where she comes out as a “tanning addict” is to disparage the validity of the monarchy, to relegate it to the recesses of KnowYourMeme.com.
I first intended to write a jokey POV about the Queen waking up in baby Malibu Barbie’s body; in fact, I latched onto the idea with a borderline-sadistic excitement. But upon sitting down to write it, the joke had lost some of its hold on me. Maybe it’s just because I really love “The Crown,” or because I watched one too many “funny Queen moments” TikTok compilations, or because her dogs are really cute, but I think I harbor a respect for the Queen that I wasn’t aware of until I tried to undercut it so openly.
Though entangled with the ethical concerns of her seat, the Queen carried herself with finesse and grace through a job that I thought I would love at age six but now, frankly, sounds really hard and annoying. It remains to be seen what will come of the British monarchy, and I will keep laughing at baby Malibu’s rumored ascension to the throne, but I can’t quite bring myself to be the one making the jokes.