Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

The Alt-Right Has Lost Control of the ‘Redpill’ Meme, pub-2328942793705872, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0


Now the pill is experiencing new life as a funny little suffix that makes all interests and proclivities sound more dramatic. If you search pilled on Twitter, you will see people getting playfully radicalized about one thing or another every minute: Rory Gilmore–pilled, an affliction that makes a person want to act like the main character in Gilmore Girls. Or fish oil–pilled, which is nice, because fish oil supposedly has many health benefits. Or Opulent Tips–pilled, which is when you’re obsessed with the invite-only email newsletter about fashion. Pilled was a bad meme, and now it’s become a big joke. Nobody is really “pilled” on coconut oil or kindness or the Adam Sandler movie about a charming kidnapping. That would not make sense. Rather, people are taking a classic far-right meme and intentionally twisting it into something insignificant. The power of the MAGA internet is now diminished, and some Americans are ready to have a bit of fun at its expense.

Like so many other things that end up confusing millions of people a few years later, red pill, usually written as redpill, sprouted on Reddit. It was first popularized in 2013 in a Reddit forum called The Red Pill, which is for men who aspire to seduce women using complicated manipulation; the term meant deliberately opening your eyes to the oppression of modern men. Then it made a run through almost every major reactionary space on Reddit: the Gamergate forums, the white-supremacy forums (before they were banned), the incel forums (before they were banned).

Leading up to the 2016 election, the red pill exploded in popularity when it hit the once-massive Reddit forum dedicated to then–presidential candidate Donald Trump (before that forum was banned too). Taking a red pill still meant opting in to a new worldview, but the worldview in question was now less clearly defined: QAnon believers took red pills, and so did garden-variety misogynists, and so did MAGA diehards who simply loathed and distrusted the media. The red pill became such a popular right-wing meme during the Trump years that people started to hear about it even offline. In 2017, Maroon 5 titled an album Red Pill Blues, and the band members were forced to clarify that they were only fans of The Matrix, not misogynists or racists. Then, in May 2020, Elon Musk tweeted, “Take the red pill,” and Ivanka Trump replied, “Taken!”—a news event that was covered everywhere, including The New York Times and Fox News. (The Matrix director Lilly Wachowski responded, “Fuck both of you.”)

As outsiders caught on to the red pill, the red-pilled came up with new pills that others couldn’t understand. Certain 4chan and Reddit users delineated the difference between a red pill and a green pill (which reveals the truth about lizard people), or an iron pill (which makes a white supremacist into a ripped white supremacist), or an indigo pill (which is for Joker-style anarchists who are also obsessed with the Illuminati). Recently, the black pill has become a favorite of the “doomers” who have given up on everything. When colors got boring—or too much outside attention—the meme moved on to words affixed nonsensically to pills, such as schizopilled and jewpilled.  

A rotating pill surrounded by a text bubble and the GOP logo
Shira Inbar

The dispersal of pilled is what led the mainstream internet to pick up on the meme, Tom Willaert, a researcher at the Free University of Brussels, who has monitored some of the more heinous “pills,” told me. Studying exactly how a meme jumps from one platform to another is almost impossible, Willaert said, but the new exciting, comforting, or funny types of pilled seem to have gotten popular on Twitter in the past year, particularly among people who spend plenty of time online and would have some knowledge of the meme’s history. Lately, people have claimed to be pilled on Rihanna’s makeup line, on coziness as a concept, on cats sitting in gardens, on the song “Running Up That Hill,” on Kansas, on red sauce, on the country singer Hank Williams, or on the Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby. Now, pilled is an appropriate substitute for simply “suddenly becoming really into something,” in the same way that –gate, in a wink to Watergate, gets attached to every scandal. It appears totally divorced from its radical roots, and is approaching the point where it means almost nothing at all.

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