The Unicorn Frappuccino Diabetes Meme: An Appraisal
The best way to strengthen a meme is to wag your finger at it. Internet jokes metastasize when given attention, and it does not matter whether the attention is positive or negative, whether the voice is chuckling or chastising. Like a grease fire, the more one tries to douse a meme with splashes of disapproval, the hotter and faster it will burn. To indulge in another metaphor, any hint of admonishment becomes a drop of blood in the web-water, which attracts frenzied schools of troll-sharks. Anyone who has grown up with the internet understands this on an intuitive level.
Having established the fact that you should never talk about a meme if you want it to go away, let’s talk about a meme. You may have seen the meme in question: the Unicorn Frappuccino Diabetes meme. Yes? No? You may also ask, quite fairly: why am I here, willingly bleeding into troll-infested waters?
A quick aside for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: An article or two recently called out Starbucks’s Unicorn Frappuccino (new! limited time only!) for “containing more than twice the acceptable amount of daily sugar intake [sic].” The import of this accusation is a little unclear, but google the Unicorn Frappuccino, and boy-howdy, things will begin to crystallize. 76 grams of sugar. 80 total carbs. Yikes.
Memesters quickly took this data and used it to fashion diabetes jokes, which were built on the premise that consuming lots of sugar causes diabetes (a specious and unscientific premise; we’ll examine it in a moment).
Even some websites got in on the fun: “Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino is a Colorful & Fun Way to Get Diabetes” by GomerBlog—Earth’s Finest Medical News and “Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino is a Weapon of Mass Diabetes” by blogger Awesomely Luvvie.
Portions of the online diabetic community have taken umbrage at the memes. The source of the type 1 diabetes (T1D) community’s irritation is rooted in the inaccuracy of the aforementioned premise that eating sugar causes type 1 diabetes.
Eating sugar does not cause type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease of complicated provenance; diet has little or nothing to do with its onset. Type 2 diabetics also have reason to roll their eyes—diet can influence the onset of type 2, but the relationship is not directly causal. Even beyond their annoying conflation of types 1 and 2 diabetes, the memes are misleading.
Of course, blaming memes for getting the facts wrong is like blaming a puppy for being a quadruped. Distortion and performed ignorance contribute to what makes memes funny. Expecting intellectual rigor from internet humorists is naive, and a little sententious.
So back to my earlier question: why call attention to the meme and thereby pump life into its syrupy veins? Why are we even here? I guess we’re here because this meme (which is a reincarnation of an older one) commits the single most unpardonable crime on the internet. It isn’t funny.
I don’t mean that it isn’t funny because it’s offensive—good comedy is often transgressive. I mean that it fails as humor. When the first “Diabeetus” memes sprouted, c. 2006-7 CE, they were actually pretty funny. Utahan actor Wilford Brimley’s walrus snout led the meme on its maiden voyage when his mispronunciation of “Diabetes” as “Diabeetus” spawned a remix video and scores of captioned images. (The unintentionally funny site Know Your Meme terms Brimley’s infelicity “an exploitable sound bite.” Indeed.)
The YouTube video, primly titled “Wilford Brimley—The Beetis” (2006), finds our hero dressed as a cowboy (for some reason), and stuttering, “Diabeetus” and “I have Diabeetus” over a primitive rap beat. It’s a curious artifact. For one thing, it reminds you that the standards for meme quality used to be much lower—the remixer didn’t even bother to put Brimley’s voice precisely on the beat. For another, the video kind of makes you smile, as only absurd, repetitive, half-assed internet jokes can make you smile.
So if we peel back this meme’s layers of history (the internet is old enough that memes have layers, think about that), we can see that, yes, it was ignorant in its original state; yes, it misinformed people. Perhaps it even hurt some feelings. But in the amoral ecosystem of the internet, here’s the only thing that matters: it was funny.
Its funniness was a good beyond mere levity. Both of my brothers are type 1s, and I could tell that the Brimley “Diabeetus” schtick helped them put a veneer of humor on the disease back in the mid to late 2000s. Back when the meme was fresh, one could argue that it was a good and healthy way to leaven serious illness with humor.
With its recent Unicorn Frappuccino iteration, the meme isn’t fresh anymore. It’s outlived its edge and therefore its usefulness. It’s stale, tedious and facile, and anyone who still uses it probably also quotes Charlie Sheen and planks on/in/near famous buildings.
In short, the Unicorn Frappuccino meme is an old, tired relic. Let’s allow it to settle down for good in the pixelated dustbin of history, and die with dignity.
Read Diabetics After the Apocalypse by Forester McClatchey.