M3GAN: A living meme that the wider movie industry should take very seriously – Screen Shot
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M3GAN: A living meme that the wider movie industry should take very seriously

After months of waiting, the moment had finally arrived: I was sitting in the cinema, about to watch M3GAN for the first time.

The new science fiction horror film is a collaboration between legendary horror producers James Wan and Jason Blum and screenwriter Akela Cooper, who brought us 2021’s psychotic parasitic-twin epic Malignant. I’d love to tell you that the production company, the film’s screenwriter or perhaps its director, Gerard Johnstone, were why I felt like I simply had to see it. But that would be a lie, like the ones killer AI bot M3GAN quickly programmed herself to tell.

The real answer is much more simple: I did it for the memes.

Ever since the first M3GAN trailer dropped in October 2022, the film has been a living meme. After catching their first glimpse of M3GAN, Gay Twitter quickly gave the doll queer icon status. “She is serving,” “she ate,” “she is mother,” “the new IT girl”—you name it, it’s been said. Before the movie had even hit the theatres, I had seen more self-made fan-cam videos for this murderous doll than I could have wished for.

As a gay man who spends more time online than is recommended, it felt like watching M3GAN was my gay civic duty. After all, she’s a triple threat—she can sing, dance and kill—with a strong Real Housewives energy. It’s no surprise then that publications from Vox to Out and Them have all attempted to unpack M3GAN’s queer appeal.

More broadly, though, the American science fiction horror film says a lot about the role memes and social media have played in its promotion and the fandom that has resulted from it.

Speaking to Vulture, Get Out sensation and M3GAN’s star and executive producer Allison Williams—who plays Gemma, a roboticist at Seattle toy company Funki, who creates the doll—said that the team behind the film weren’t always sure whether they had struck the right balance between funny and scary. Before Williams even got to watch the film in the cinema with fans and see their reactions, it was when she came across the countless memes online that she thought: “We can go home, our job is done.”

There is a clear contrast in how M3GAN’s character is perceived by fans, compared to in the movie. Part of the reason why she is so ‘memeable’ to the audience is because, in the world we see her inhabit on-screen, she is taken completely seriously. She isn’t seen as remotely fabulous. To her inventors, she’s just a toy. But to fans? She’s so much more.

The memeability of M3GAN isn’t something that those behind the film have passively watched from the sidelines. In fact, the promo has leaned into M3GAN’s status as a darling of the internet. After the #m3gandance picked up traction on TikTok—with currently 226.7 million views generated—real-life stunts began to follow.

Groups dressed as a squad of M3GAN dolls posted videos from the New York City subways, shocked pedestrians outside Radio City Music Hall, and danced at the top of the Empire State Building. At the movie’s premiere, M3GAN lookalikes danced to Taylor Swift and, in Los Angeles, another M3GAN group performed their scary dance at a football game. In the film, M3GAN’s goal is killing. But in the wild, her goal is to go viral.

When I interviewed Williams about the film for GQ, she told me a key part of M3GAN’s success so far has been that the movie is roughly what audiences expect it to be. “It all depends on what the audience is coming into the theatre prepared to experience,” she said. “And audiences have been coming into M3GAN prepared to have fun and be scared.” Memes have been a major part of crafting that perception.

The fun irreverence of M3GAN, which seems tailor-made for platforms like Twitter and TikTok where—politics aside, of course—there can often be a distinct lack of seriousness. This is visible in the film’s carefully chosen release dates. It came to UK theatres on Friday 13 January, having been released in the US on a now-even-scarier date: 6 January.

The timing of the film hitting theatres might also be driving its memability. We’re in the middle of awards season, when most films are branding themselves as inherently ‘serious’ and spoken about in gushing, artistic terms. For Oscar contenders, becoming a meme might be seen to take away from their overall message or ability to be considered ‘high art’.

But upending these binary and restrictive notions is in the horror genre’s DNA. Against a backdrop of awards season, the shameless silliness and fun of M3GAN feels like a welcome (and slightly naughty) release.

Yes, the M3GAN memes are hilarious. But they’re more than that: they tell a story about how memes have become the new ‘word of mouth’—a vital part of promoting a film, creating buzz and preparing the audience for what they’re about to see. The movie and its promo have both been crafted for the new digital landscape, where social media users have just as much power as critics. Despite its unapologetic hilarity, M3GAN is a digital success story that the wider industry should take very seriously.

Everything wrong with the clickbait headlines covering Prince Harry’s memoir Spare

On his odyssey from Oprah to book publisher Random House, there is no question that Prince Harry has royally stirred up the world. With revelations branching from losing his virginity to the tragic loss of his mother, his recollections have certainly shed light upon how the Duke of Sussex has coped—and not coped—with the traumas of his younger years. Nevertheless, anyone who remembers the death of Princess Diana will invariably be aware of the press’ involvement. Similarly, anyone who knows of Prince Harry will also be conscious of his wilder years as a youngster. So why did these emotive elaborations warrant such widespread press attention? In short, they didn’t.

The hysteria and intrigue surrounding Prince Harry and his childhood is inexhaustible and, more often than not, gratuitous. Throughout his royal rampage, the Duke has made it clear his case is primarily with the British press. Well Harry you have, albeit inadvertently, hit the nail on the head.

When those explosive pages of Prince Harry’s memoir Spare were leaked only a couple of days ago, the world’s media scene was enveloped in a dark PR smog making it almost impossible to establish even clues towards the whole truth. As soon as the pages became public property, Harry’s forthright confessions about his life in the military were instantly blasted across the UK’s front pages. From tabloids to broadsheets, on 5 January 2023, you would be hard-pushed to miss a headline exclaiming that Prince Harry had killed 25 Taliban fighters while stationed in Afghanistan. Security and protocol concerns aside, the fact that he had admitted to treating his victims as “chess pieces” was enough to trigger an international media frenzy.

One week later, 20 people were killed in Afghanistan after a suspected suicide bomber detonated outside the foreign ministry in Kabul. This was documented, to be sure, but the tragedy’s press coverage and interest was a drop in the ocean compared to Harry’s bygone musings. This exposed the crux of the issue with our media in Britain—without undermining the significance of his revelation, Prince Harry’s personal confession of an occupational inevitability should not eclipse 20 deaths and the very real social struggles happening today.

It’s not just the coverage of Spare that has demonstrated this fundamental flaw in the British press. From live feeds to breaking news, the notorious Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan was a force to be reckoned in the newsroom. For two weeks, the public were subjected to a torrent of Sussex sensationalism.

In the second round of episodes, we learned of Meghan Markle’s miscarriage—a horrendous experience that tragically affects one in eight people who know they are pregnant. This could have been an exceptional opportunity to give a voice to the countless women who have experienced similar grief. Yet, true to form, Prince Harry related it to the exceptional, and unrelatable, aspect of their life by blaming the press… And the next day it was on our front pages.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, US, a woman was posting about her miscarriage on TikTok. The 35-year-old actively miscarried for what turned out to be a full 19 days. She said she hoped sharing her ordeal with people could inspire changes in the restrictive abortion laws. Again, this does not undercut the definite tragedy of Harry and Meghan’s loss. But we should be asking ourselves what right they have to a media explosion while the women of Idaho have to use TikTok to communicate the potentially fatal danger they have been in since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Of course, it would be naive to pretend any news involving the royal family isn’t going to cause a stir. They are, without a doubt, some of the most famous (and infamous) figures on the global stage. Their ‘never complain, never explain’ philosophy only works in the first place because they’re very much aware of this. So it is unsurprising that when something as scandalous as the release of a tell-all memoir from a rogue royal occurs, there is colossal interest. But that is yesterday’s news.

Harry and Meghan officially exited the royal family in 2020 and we have been kept regularly informed of the ongoing malcontent. Should the book have been the first hint of Harry’s criticism and general unhappiness, then the extensive reporting may have been justified. Or, perhaps if Harry was wilfully offering hard evidence of institutional racism or PR abuse, there would be a just cause for the country’s outcry. But, as a fundamental part of a nation’s constitution, familial quarrels are unlikely to hold any weight in our decision to back them. So how can we possibly rationalise the way we have chosen to cover them?

This case of the chicken and the egg is a cycle that has to be broken before it breaks our news. To retain relevance and respectability, both qualities must be woven into the fabric of each and every headline we read. On the flip side, we must start actively thinking about the type of news we are consuming and, crucially, whether it has earned its airtime. For now, general preconceptions of gossip and sensationalism are largely confined to the tabloids. But if our media’s response to Prince Harry’s recent exposé is anything to go by, we are in very real danger of slipping irrevocably from truth-tellers to click-baiters.