NEW YORK Some of the most popular social-media memes, viral videos, and trending hashtags have been started by people in the black community—think the GIF of Michael Jackson eating popcorn in the “Thriller” video, #OscarsSoWhite, or Insecure creator Issa Rae’s quote from last year’s Emmys: “I’m rooting for everybody black.”
To celebrate the black community’s role in creating viral social-media moments, BET created the Museum of Meme—an interactive pop-up gallery that featured more than 25 exhibits and original art pieces incorporating the most popular memes, social-media movements, hashtags, and videos.
For the event, BET partnered with Team Epiphany, which handled production and the general design. The museum, which was open to the public February 9 and 10 in a vacant office space at 446 Broadway in New York, promoted the network’s inaugural BET Social Awards, which aired live February 11 from Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“As we thought about how to promote the show, we started thinking about the heavy influence of black culture on the development of meme culture and social media,” said Janina Lundy, vice president of marketing at BET Networks. “From Vine to YouTube to memes, and, of course, Black Twitter, we recognized these iconic images and videos and wanted to create excitement and fan engagement. The Museum of Meme served to finally acknowledge the black community for its role in shaping the cultural conversation online: a recognition absolutely deserved, yet long overdue.”
Exhibits ranged from original artwork inspired by popular memes to installations evoking Vines like “Why You Always Lyin’?” and “Do It For The Vine.” (For those unfamiliar with the memes, read more about them at Know Your Meme.)
“We focused on memes that actually impacted culture in a tangible way, moving beyond the confines of their respective social-media platforms to actually influence the way people spoke and behaved,” Lundy said. “If we could not trace a meme’s evolution from the digital to the tangible world, it had no place in our experience.”
While the BET Social Awards took place in Atlanta, Lundy said BET staged the museum in New York because of its proximity to some notable viral stars. “New York is the mecca of entertainment and influence, which is why a couple of the influencers highlighted in exhibits the museum, ‘Milly Rock’ and ‘Why You Always Lyin’?’ were able to easily pop by when they heard about the museum,” she said. “We wanted to get these local influencers excited about the show, and New York is the place to do that.”
Lundy said at this time, BET doesn’t plan to bring the pop-up museum to another city, but hinted that it could return in the future. Here’s a look at some social media-friendly highlights from the Museum of Meme.