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Wojak Memes: Funny or Frightening?

From Wojak to Doomer to Boomer and Chad, who are these internet stock characters and why are they so prevalent in worrisome online communities?

wojak meme
'Me and the Boys on Vacation with our Girlfriend' Credit: MilleniaThinker / YouTube

Whilst the internet has immense power to unite people from all over the world with witty jokes and internet memes, it also enables prejudiced individuals to join together and manipulate the same content. This is exactly what can be seen in the sad appropriation of the Wojak meme in online Incel groups. How and why has this happened?

What is the Wojak meme?

Wojak, also referred to as Feels Guy is a bad-quality MS Paint drawing of a cartoon man with no hair and a miserable expression. The Wojak image is often used to express loneliness, sadness, or sorrow. The comedy arises from the variety of situations Wojak is positioned in and its parody of different sectors of society. Through Wojak’s lack of characteristics, he can be used to encompass a vast but specific range of individuals, possibly creating a sense of community in the process.

Where did it come from?

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Original Wojak Meme, Credit: Posted byu/Maverinomev/Reddit

Wojak may have been developed from a Polish character called Voyak on the image board ‘Vichan’. However, the above meme is thought to have been first found in 2009 on an online comedy site called ‘Sad and Useless’ where Wojak is standing alone at a party wishing he did not have to socialize and could play his video games instead. Perhaps rarely for memes, Wojak remained popular, resurfacing on Reddit in 2012 with a subreddit for /r/Wojak being created in 2015 in which Wojak was photo-shopped into a variety of situations.

‘I Know that Feel Bro’ Meme: Credit: u/cooll-_-/Reddit

In 2012, the Redditor ‘Voyack’ submitted the image of two works embracing onto /r/datfeel which sparked a variety of memes picturing men consoling one another. With the popularity of this meme comes to the question, why are young men feeling the need to channel sympathy for one another online rather than in person? Has toxic masculinity pushed young men into feeling their most open and comfortable online? Is meme culture now a brotherhood of sorts?

On the other hand, there is also a prevalence of anti-LGBTQ+ memes using this format which mocks the emotional empathy and closeness of the two wojaks pictured. Is the Wojak meme format particularly prone to hateful interpretation or is this a risk of all widely spread memes online?

The Characters

Even in 2022, Wojak sustains his popularity. The ‘Feels Guy’ has inspired a huge variety of different stock characters with many similarly specific characteristics. There is the ‘Boomer’ – the older millennial who is out of touch with younger adults. The ‘Doomer’ – a pessimistic lonely man who thinks life is meaningless. The ‘Chad’ – a particularly attractive man who is opposed to the ‘Virgin’ character and often dates ‘Stacy,’ a conventionally attractive woman who sleeps with or dates ‘Chad’. Amidst a plethora of other equally specific characters.

Typical Thanksgiving dinner Wojak grid. Credit: PerpetualHillman, Reddit

With the never-ending possibilities of creating new characters in new situations, the variety of the Wojak meme format is hugely exciting. However, why do young people feel this need to categorize themselves into stock characters? In an age of defiance against traditional gender binaries and alike, is this system of identity categorization a retaliation against general Gen Z cultural shifts?

Wojak, Gender, and Incels

As with any internet meme, individuals can sadly ruin the comedic intention through reference to anything xenophobic. As I’ve hinted already in relation to LGBTQ+ issues, there are, as with any other meme on the internet, a variety of upsetting versions of Wojak memes. However, the extent to which members of Incel forums, 4chan, and other online spaces have utilized stock characters like ‘Stacey’ and ‘Chad’ in particular is alarming.

‘Incel’ refers to men that are ‘Involuntarily Celibate’ who blame women and feminism for their lack of sexual partners. It is a hugely problematic and extreme mindset that has sadly contributed to a variety of violent acts. In incel language, ‘Chad’ is used as a term for a strong, popular, testosterone-fueled man who sleeps with all the women (particularly ‘Staceys’.) There are specific physical characteristics of a ‘Chad’ that incels determine as fact as to whether men are attractive to women, particularly prominent chins and jaws. The ‘Chad’ is contrasted to the Virgin figure as is seen across Wojak memes.

Perhaps the issue arises because of the complexity and multi-layered jokes that occur across Wojak memes. While initially Wojak memes may have been used to unite and draw together socially outcast young men around the world, the format can be easily appropriated into hateful propaganda. If someone isn’t ‘in on the joke’ they can’t understand whether there is irony at play leading to all to dangerous misinterpretation.

Sadly the best jokes can also be a brutally effective mask for cruelty.

Written By

Lucy Rowland is an English Literature student who is interested in current social media trends and what they can tell us about the society we live in.

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