Some memes go viral, and the storming of Area 51 meme is no exception. If you’ve missed the memo while scrolling down your social media feeds, there is currently an event on Facebook trending, inviting people to join together and storm Area 51 collectively. So far, over 1.6 million users have clicked ‘attending’ with 1.2. million ‘interested’—and the number only keeps growing.
‘Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us’ is the name of the event that has now turned into an internet joke, with thousands of memes circulating everywhere. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens”, says the description of the event. So what is the plan? To meet up at 3 am on 20 September 2019 and jointly storm the heavily patrolled Area 51 (an open training range belonging to the U.S. Air Force), of course. The joke is that, we, as internet users and meme enthusiasts, can barge in on the government and uncover their secrets, all in the name of humour.
Firstly, why is Area 51 so protected? It is a facility within the Nevada Test and Training Range, a detachment of the Edwards Air Force Base (officially going by the name of Homey Airport and Groom Lake). Like many military facilities across the globe, its primary use is hidden from the public. Some conspiracy theorists believe that the U.S. government is hiding information on UFOs and that Area 51 is the biggest base holding captured aliens.
These theories began circulating when a man named Bob Lazar claimed he worked at Area 51’s ‘Sector Four’, while he was apparently contracted to work on alien spacecrafts. There is no verification to his claims, nor is there proof of his academic qualifications that would enable him to acquire this position in the first place, yet Lazar maintains that all such evidence was erased by the government. He has since appeared in interviews, Joe Rogan’s podcast, and even had a Netflix documentary filmed about him. Popular culture played a role in creating the associations between the military base and aliens, but there is no physical proof of this. It is unlikely that the research base holds any aliens captive, so raiding the premises to “see them aliens” would, quite frankly, be a waste of time.
But why are we taking this joke so far? The answer is simple—because of how meme culture works. Memes have become such a common part of our internet experience that we began incorporating them into our daily lives. Millennials and Gen Zs began forming tight-knit online communities of different demographics, with forums largely consisting of memes. They allow one to connect to others, gain a sense of belonging, and stay relevant within the digital realm.
Therefore, memes and internet phenomenons have a tendency to blow out of proportion and merge with reality. We’ve seen the bottle cap challenge go viral in recent weeks, criticized for being unsustainable and promoting pollution, the Kylie Jenner lip challenge a few years back, and one that deserves honorary mention—the Tide Pod challenge.
Remember the start of 2018? What began as a meme gone viral soon turned into an online challenge where people would film themselves eating tide pods, daring others to do the same—with some, even cooking elaborate meals using tide pods prior to consumption. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reported 37 cases of pod digestion among teens, with half of them intentional. Tide had to urge people to stop eating them, and Facebook and YouTube began deleting videos of people consuming these. Eventually, supermarkets and corner shops began locking up tide pods and other laundry detergent products.
Why would a human consciously choose to eat a tide pod, you may ask—no one can say for sure, but what is clear is that meme culture has really gotten out of hand. So, are we actually going to storm Area 51? History does tend to repeat itself, and so there is no doubt that at least a small group of people might show up. With many hotels, campsites, and Airbnbs around the area fully booked out for these dates, it seems that some people are taking this joke more seriously than others.
Here is the thing, then. I don’t want to sound like a killjoy, but raiding Area 51 is a bad idea. The U.S. government does not find it funny, with a spokesperson telling the Washington Post the Air Force is “ready to protect America and its assets”. With ‘no trespassing’ signs all around the base warning that “failure to do so can result in the use of deadly force”, the message should be clear to anyone attempting to get in. The title of the event might state “They Can’t Stop All of Us”, well, they very much can.
Even CNN is currently trying to stop people from raiding Area 51 with a collection of memes, which is obviously an effective form of communication. After all, memes are what got us talking about this matter in the first place. Facebook user Jackson Barnes, who jokingly created the initial ‘game plan’ on how to storm Area 51 had to go as far as to write, “Hello US government, this is a joke, and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan”, not wanting to take any responsibility for those who plan to go ahead with this idea.
It is evident that the joke is getting a little out of hand. It might die out in a few weeks like most internet phenomenons, or it might keep snowballing—and if it does, then it is uncertain what will happen or who actually has the power to put an end to all this. Until then, ‘Storm Are 51’ merch is available for sale, as a joke or not. That’s the internet for you.