The GIF that keeps on… GIFfing?

Wrestling with my own mortality because I still use GIFs

Ever see something online that hits just a little too close to home? For me, it was this tweet from writer Jenny Zhang a few months back:

Oh no, I thought, seeing the tweet. I use GIFs. Not so much the “reaction GIF” genre (see: “Blinking guy,” “Will Ferrell in Anchorman saying ‘That escalated quickly,’” and so on.) Does that… make me old? Am I out-of-touch? I just turned 35. Holy crap, I just turned 35, oh no! How am I already 35? Where has my youth gone?!


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To be clear, Zhang’s tweet is great. The replies and quote tweets to it are also really good. Only a few people seemed to take genuine offense to it while the rest of us chuckled over another reminder of our collective mortality. Fun!

It got me thinking about Bo Burnham’s song about turning 30:

I used to make fun of the boomers
In retrospect, a bit too much
Now all these f*cking zoomers
Are telling me that I'm out of touch? Oh yeah?
Well, your f*cking phones are poisoning your minds, okay?
So when you develop a dissociative mental disorder in your late '20s
Don't come crawling back to me

I can relate… plus some, given that I long blew past 30 on my way to 35.

Thinking about that tweet led me to check out what sort of odd GIFs I have saved on my phone.

Back in the early-mid 2000s, I learned how to make GIFs out of a handful of still images. “Look! Animation!” (Sort of not really…) I used to make them to use as my AOL Instant Messenger Buddy Icons. It was good fun. Even at the time, GIF felt like a pretty ancient file type. I think part of my connection to them is that they have outlived their purposes and usefulness. There are other, better file types out there for animations and videos, yet the GIF perseveres.

Sometimes I make GIFs as a way to express myself. Here’s one I made a couple years back when my dog Meatball was very sick. I was stuck in a pretty rough place when it came to my mental health, but making this glitchy GIF self-portrait was just sort of… cathartic.
Other times, I make them to comment on politics and current events. There’s nothing particularly insightful about these, and they’re really just my way of goofing around.
There was the time Trump gave a speech on the White House lawn after he recovered from COVID-19. I made a video where I chroma keyed out the background and turned it into a used car ad. Here’s a moment I decided to immortalize in GIF form.
After Mike Pence wrote a June 2020 opinion piece about how there “won’t be a second wave” of COVID-19 in the US, I replaced the face of the mayor from Jaws with his, plugging it back into the scene where the mayor downplays the threat of shark attacks.
And other times, I make GIFs as a way to vent my frustration with the state of the world. I tweaked the classic “Duck Season!” “Rabbit Season!” Loony Tunes bit as a comment on what it’s like to be trans in the current political climate.
This one speaks for itself. I believe I made this one the day after Trump cleared protesters out of Lafayette Square in order to take a photo with a Bible.

Some of my favorite GIFs I’ve ever made are just plain… weird.

For instance…

When I saw the courtroom sketch of Julian Assange, I couldn’t help but imagine him as one of the characters in the music video for A-ha’s “Take On Me.”
After trying to use Duolingo to learn French last year, I thought about how funny it would be if Duo the Owl just kept getting increasingly angry about me not logging in for a daily lesson. All in good fun.

I’m fascinated by the many different ways we communicate with each other, and how those ways are always evolving.

Words to emoticons to emoji. Video to GIFs back to videos, etc. The world is forever changing and we’re all getting older. Zhang’s tweet gave me a good laugh and oddly, a bit of reassurance that I’m growing older and that’s okay.