‘This Pride Month I’m Partnering With’ Memes Are Coming Out Strong
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These events and campaigns are visible shows of support for the L.G.B.T.Q. community. They’re also good for business. Sometimes lumped under the label of “rainbow capitalism,” pride ads and merchandise are often the subject of jokes and memes that question the sincerity of corporate marketing and the influencers who help boost such messages. This year, the online ribbing started right away.
Katie Johantgen riffed on a common joke format just after midnight on June 1: an emotional coming-out message, ending with the reveal of a brand partnership: “I’ve realized life is short,” she wrote on Twitter, “which is why this pride I’ve decided to partner with Taco Bell, so I can Live Mas.”
Though the tweet was meant as a parody, modeled after language influencers use to promote Pride campaigns, Mrs. Johantgen’s coming out was sincere. She received an outpouring of support alongside winking nods of approval. One Twitter user responded with an image of the Taco Bell logo displayed against a rainbow background, with the text: “LIVE YÁÁÁS.”
Some of the “I’m partnering with” memes are silly or bawdy, like a tweet that makes a pun about oral sex and DoorDash food delivery. Others lampoon the dissonance between the positive rainbow ads and the less-sunny realities of corporations. Hudson Farr, 24, tweeted about an imagined partnership with one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, writing: “As a queer child, I learned firsthand that sometimes words can be the most hurtful weapons. That’s why this pride month I’ve partnered with raytheon.” Still others tend toward gallows humor, such as a tweet about “partnering with IKEA to build my dream closet.”
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Notably, each of the corporations mentioned has its own 2022 Pride campaign underway. “LIVE YÁÁÁS” is fictitious, but Taco Bell does have an L.G.B.TQ.-focused employee resource group called “Live Más Pride” and is currently sponsoring a 10-show drag tour hosted at five of its Taco Bell locations.
DoorDash is hosting several events for employees this June that include drag bingo, Pride trivia and a donation and letter writing campaign in support of trans people via the organization Point of Pride. Raytheon Technologies released a statement on June 1 outlining its commitment to its L.G.B.T.Q. workers and noting that the company “is regularly recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the best places for LGBTQIA+ employees to work.”
Throughout the month of June, Ikea is donating proceeds from sales of its rainbow shopping bags to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization that focuses on the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Ikea is also encouraging customers to take selfies with the company’s “HOME PRIDE HOME” cross-stitch design. A PDF of the image is available for download on Ikea’s website.
These corporate initiatives are now familiar enough that they’ve become common fodder for satire. In 2021, the comedian Meg Stalter uploaded a video of herself playing a representative of a butter shop making a clumsy attempt to court gay customers. Her opening line — “Hi, gay!” — became internet shorthand for corporate pandering. T-shirts bearing the slogan are available in her online shop.
Addie Shrodes, who recently completed a Ph.D. in education from Northwestern University, has researched online humor in L.G.B.T.Q. communities. “Usually there is a pride joke that happens around the month of June,” Dr. Shrodes said. “And this year, I’ve been noticing this anti-capitalist, anti-corporate joke around influencer commodification in Pride spaces.”
“Especially within queer and queer of color activism, there’s a really long history of using humor to survive and resist interlocking structures of oppression,” Dr. Shrodes said, citing the work of the activist group ACT-UP and Jose Muñoz, the queer theorist who wrote, “Comedy does not exist independently of rage.”
Dr. Shrodes said that humor has been used for decades within queer and trans activist movements as a way to question dominant norms. “In the social media world that we live in, influencer culture gets normalized. Being a paid ambassador, being a paid content creator, that gets normalized,” Dr. Shrodes said, adding that memes could be “a way to use humor to create some distance from those trends and say, ‘Oh, this is actually kind of weird. Maybe we don’t want this.’”
Or maybe people do? Sometimes it’s not so clear.
“I like that format because I hate capitalism,” Mrs. Johantgen, 30, said. Not that she’s above trying to parlay her tweet’s virality into some corporate swag. In a reply to her own tweet, she urged Taco Bell to donate to the groups that support the L.G.B.T.Q. community and also suggested that the company send freebies her way.
“It’s about my journey as a queer person and getting free Baja Blasts for life,” Mrs. Johantgen said. She was joking. Mostly.
Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.