[Content Warning: Artwork shown depicts gore/blood.]
While brainstorming this very blog post, I, like most people, took some time to procrastinate on Twitter. My Twitter experience is usually entertaining at best, however this time was different: I began to notice the frequency at which viral tweets use prehistoric tropes about human nature to create a punchline. I find this kind of anthropological storytelling different from the typical framing of our societal origins, as viral tweets aim not to uphold the traditional misconceptions about our prehistory but rather dissect these misconceptions in 280 characters or less.
It’s important to note that Twitter users aren’t powerful figures or societal structures benefiting from the myths and tropes that surround early human society, nor are they accidentally perpetuating these myths and tropes. The use of the Progress Myth or the prehistoric gender role trope is intentional, and whether or not the authors of these viral tweets agree with these tropes can’t necessarily be determined from a tweet alone. However, comedy is an incredibly intentional and powerful social tool used to make some sort of observation of our society.
With that being said, let’s take a look at two of my favorite tweets that embody this comedic anthropological intentionality!
The first example is a spin on the popular tweet format of “How It Started, How It’s Going,” typically used to showcase one’s relationship or career/academic progress. Here though, user @PainxPiss explores the evolutionary history of humankind, starting with our origins as prehistoric fish and ending with an untitled painting by artist Xue Jiye, often used in meme culture to depict a sense of existential dread and nihilism. Although not explicit, the story being told here is one of over-evolution: we somehow have managed to complicate our existence so much that we would be better off as prehistoric fish. This tweet is a self-aware criticism of the Progress Myth, the assumption that a better, more efficient life is inherent to the process of evolution. It goes so far as to romanticize our human origins as simpler, happier, and easier than the present, juxtaposing the outdated Western anthropological belief that modernity brings a higher quality of life.
Second in our tweet analysis is one of my favorite tweets of all time. This particular tweet, written by user @thisyearsgurl, pointedly mocks the sexual division of labor trope (that still alarmingly persists in much of our pop culture). The pervasiveness of the stereotype—that only women gather and only men hunt—is ironic considering that hunter-gatherer societies were exceptionally egalitarian, and also a projection of our modern-day gender binary onto our ancestors. While @thisyearsgurl is joking, the replies to this tweet show real time discourse of prehistoric and modern-day gender roles, and it goes to show that even the silliest of tweets can offer insight into societal misconceptions surrounding our origin story.
@PainxPiss. “How it started How it’s going.” Twitter, 8 Oct. 2020, 6:23 p.m., https://twitter.com/PainxPiss/status/1314330523666468867.
@thisyearsgurl. “women love the thrift store because they love to forage.” Twitter, 3 Dec. 2020, 7:20 p.m., https://twitter.com/thisyearsgurl/status/1334653846568783877.