Could Poe teach Trump about wall building?

Poe in shades: If you're getting walled in a cellar I feel bad for you son. I've got 99 problems and Amontillado ain't one. Image copyright Poes Tavern

If you think that the sort of things that millennials make trend on social media are entirely predictable, then you may need to think again.

A curious phenomenon has emerged on the micro-blogging site Tumblr. It's perhaps been best summed up by one user called brinnanza: "Oh, giant company, you want your advertisement to go viral? Well this week the kids are obsessed with a short story written in 1846."

The short story in question is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", and unlikely as it may sound it's inspired a series memes that thread together images and quotes from this macabre tale with more modern concerns.

The story is about a narrator, whose name is revealed as Montresor at the end, who tells us about a man named Fortunato, who has insulted him. The narrator decides to get revenge and meets Fortunato, who is dressed up as a jester for a carnival celebration.

*Spoiler Alert*

Montresor tempts Fortunato to come and try a sherry called Amontillado. The booze is stored in a catacomb, which should perhaps have been an ominous sign, but Fortunato's judgement is impaired by alcohol. And the story ends with Fortunato being walled up alive in the cellar.

So what is it about this 170-year-old unhappy ending that resonates with today's Tumblr users (who according to the Pew Research Center are mostly 18-29 year olds)?

Let's start with the wall. One of the most controversial news stories of this year has been US presidential candidate Donald Trump's promise that, if elected, he will build an "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall" between the US and Mexico.

Tumblr users took these seemingly unconnected structures and went to work.

Image copyright dogvillage
Image copyright Tumblr

And then there's the hideous revenge on somebody wearing a jester's costume. What's the 2016 parallel?

"The Cask of Amontillado is the new meme in reaction to the clown epidemic," wrote Tumblr user memeufacturing. "We all became aware of the clown epidemic a week or two ago and now the new meme is luring and subsequently cementing a clown into your ancient cellar ...".

We should say that memeufacturing message is tongue-in-cheek (we hope). And so is user mymelement:

Image copyright Tumblr

And that was just the start of the memestorm as Poe's creepy classic was given all sorts of popular culture twists.

Image copyright Twitter/germoneys
Image copyright Twitter/MikeCastSU

Even 50 Shades of Grey was dragged into it.

Image copyright Tumblr
Image copyright Tumblr

So who was it who first spotted that Poe's creepy classic had potential as meme fodder?

It all seemed to start when one user with the handle popularlesbian posted: "I'm not petty and I don't see the point in holding a grudge. Anyway would you like to come into my cellar and taste a fine vintage..." The note was reblogged by user hamburgertrousers, who replied "Me in a silly hat, completely wasted: 'boy would I!'"It was hamburgertrousers reblogging that was the tinder to the Tumblr fire.

Image copyright Tumblr
Image copyright Tumblr

The phenomenon, according to Vox, may have a logical explanation.

Tumblr is known to actively embrace the Halloween season. Edgar Allan Poe's works of Gothic fiction are tinged with the unknown and the eerie. They invariably become memes in October.

So, as we move on to hunt the next trend, let's leave the last word on this one, with one Tumblr user: "I can't believe Cask of Amontillado is a meme my English teacher would be so proud of all of you".

Blog by Megha Mohan

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