I’ve noticed something when I open my Instagram app at 7 a.m. and start flipping through my friend’s Stories: A new trend has popped up. A bold, odd photo — sometimes an iridescent rose or oversaturated characters from Winnie The Pooh or a dolphin, jumping through an ocean of sparkles — accompanying a line of text.
Sometimes the text is animated, although it isn’t always. Sometimes the text is an affirmation: “I am Boss Baby.” Sometimes it’s, well, different: “frogs are Naturally Born Gay, sweetie.” But there is something it always has: a photo, accompanied with a funny line of text. Some people call it motivational shitposting.
The reasoning behind why these posts are doing so well across the platform isn’t nearly as simple as the text that accompanies these memes. It could be because people love the satire, or because it’s a helpful way to deal with our own insecurities, or because we find it genuinely motivational, or maybe just because we’re tired and it’s fun.
Cat Frazier, a 30-year-old creator out of Las Vegas, makes these for her some-150,000 followers on Instagram. You might know her as @itsanimatedtext — her avi is an animated dolphin with headphones on — where she posts, you guessed it, animated text. She told Mashable that started creating text posts on her Tumblr while she was in college, and eventually learned to animate the text. She was studying graphic design and critical theory, but just wanted to take some time to make art that is “kind of minimal and boring,” something she called “really different and borderline ugly.”
“So I started just posting, on Tumblr, quotes from music videos and just some jokes that I had using 3D texts, and that was also around the time where I found internet archeology, which basically archives a lot of old GeoCities sites in the early 2000s,” Frazier said. “And I noticed a lot of them were using 3D word art. So I found the program that they used to make those, and I just posted to Tumblr. And honestly, as soon as I started posting people were requesting [their own edits], so it became like a request page as opposed to just like my jokes online.”
Requests started flooding in. Eventually, she pivoted her Instagram account to post the text posts in combination to her Tumblr, a blog by the same name. And, soon, she started animating those posts to add in “a little bit more depth.”
“Instead of making something that’s like, ‘not to get political, but what the F is oatmeal,’ as just a text post, I thought it’d be funny if I could start using stock images,” Frazier said of the changes she’s made within her own work and meme page. “And it was also around the time I started seeing other meme pages use static stock footage along with text.”
It’s hard to describe these kinds of posts, but it’s hard to describe just about any successful meme trend when it pops up into the general public lexicon. Frazier thought a description she heard — “motivational shitposting” — worked as a good descriptor of her work.
“I saw a post the other day that was, I think it had, like a rat on it or something really weird, and it said, ‘don’t destroy the cringe, destroy the part of you that cringes,'” Frazier said. “And I love that because this is exactly what it is. It’s a sense of being extremely self-aware and breaking down why you think this way about things and making fun of it.”
Mats Andersen, the 21-year-old mind behind @afffirmations out of Oslo, Norway, creates similar work to Frazier. But he isn’t sure shitposting really encapsulates his posts because of “how much time I spend on making these pictures,” which he isn’t sure aligns with the “lower quality” assumptions that come along with calling something shitposting.
“But of course I’m not stupid, so I realize that people will view [my account as shitposting] because an aspect of this account of this aesthetic is that it looks cheap. It looks like it’s taken right from the internet. And this is of course a very important aspect of the account. So I won’t neglect this description of the account, of course, I think it’s great actually,” Andersen told Mashable. “But I would describe it as some crazy shit, really. Just some crazy shit.”
But no matter what you call it, the effect is the same. Frazier and Andersen are creating work they think of as one thing, and the audience takes it and runs with it. Frazier says she’s creating “things that I think are so difficult for people to explicitly say, and then couple them with something that is seen as absolutely absurd or narcissistic. It’s an uplifting thing, but it’s rooted in a very real thing that people are going through.”
“It’s an uplifting thing, but it’s rooted in a very real thing that people are going through.”
“It’s weird because making animate text to me isn’t — I don’t look at it as something I have to do. It’s something that kind of distracts me from whatever I’m talking about… It almost allows me to kind of process it through the creation of it,” Frazier said. “And honestly when I release it to me, that’s kind of just like releasing it from myself into the world. And it’s something that I’ve acknowledged and I feel a little bit lighter and I get this question a lot because I think as an audience member, your experience with what I make is different from mine as the person behind it.”
And Andersen feels similarly — the way he feels about something while he creates it doesn’t necessarily match up with what the audience takes with them.
“The reason I started this was because I was feeling creatively inspired, artistically inspired, and I wanted to do something in an artistic nature. And so how it often is with art, the artist has his own reading into it. And the audience has their own reading, their own understanding,” Andersen said of his own work. “I don’t think that [my intention] matters because what matters is the viewers, how do they read it? How do they understand it? Everybody’s got their own understanding of this post. Some think that it’s satire or ironic, some think that it is serious.”
No matter their intent, people love it. Frazier says she thinks people gravitate towards the work so much because of its “complete lack of self-awareness.” Her art, and other art pages like them, communicate “the ability to be vulnerable and still feel like you’re the shit in a terrible situation.”
“It’s something that I have a hard time describing,” she said, before pointing to one other most successful posts, which says “bad bitches go to therapy.” She’s taking something that could be seen negatively — therapy — and partnering it with something undoubtedly positive — being a bad bitch.
“It’s something that is usually seen as a negative or something that kind of puts you down as a person, but repurposing it by using internet slang playing or using something that’s extremely braggadocious to comment on something somebody is actually going through or struggle to go through,” Frazier said. She added that she thinks people are first attracted to her work thanks to “the sadness and the vulnerability that draws people in.” And, she hopes, that when they’re took looking at it, they feel like it’s not so bad. “And you can just kind of like, excuse it in any way,” Frazier said.
For instance, in her post that says “my parents need therapy/how do we set that up Patricia,” the comments range from “breaking the cycle by going to therapy before I have kids so they don’t have to deal with the shit I did” to “I’m patricia.”
Andersen says he thinks people gravitate towards the work so much for a variety of reasons: because it makes them laugh, or because it makes them think, or because it makes them reconsider something.
“The point is that I want to conjure from the audience an emotional reaction. I want them to think on their own to reflect on their own,” Andersen said. “And if I can help do something that bears fruit in accordance to mental wellbeing and make people talk about this, I think I’ve done something right. But if they just want to have a laugh or something like this, this is fine too, because this how I’m writing, how I’m doing the system in general, there are so many ways of interpreting it.”
People interpret it as sincere, or satire, or motivational, or, even, spiritual. I mostly just interpret it as “good.”