Shaft's Lame Meme Game

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When I saw that Samuel L. Jackson would be reprising the role of John Shaft not for a thirty second Capital One commercial but rather for an entire upcoming feature film, my response was simple and succinct. I wondered why. Why, for the love of God, did they feel the need to make a sequel to 1999’s Shaft, an utterly forgettable mediocrity that was released to a culture-wide shrug of indifference two long decades ago?

The answer, as is almost invariably the case when it comes to screamingly unnecessary sequels and reboots, has nothing to do with art and everything to do with commerce. Someone though that they could make money with a Shaft movie featuring three generations of Shaft and undoubtedly had market projections and audience research to back up this unfortunate but possibly true assertion. Voila! Shaft is reborn for a whole new generation to ignore or be underwhelmed by.

My skepticism of this wildly unnecessary new incarnation of the iconic Blaxploitation hero and sex machine to all the chicks increased exponentially when memes featuring Samuel L. Jackson started popping up on my Twitter feed as sponsored posts.

These memes, which all feel like they were created by someone who learned what a meme was mere moments before they began creating them for the official Shaft Twitter feed are so astonishingly lame and tone-deaf that they accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of making Samuel L. Jackson seem like an unforgivably corny motherfucker. 

Pitching this inessential reboot squarely to an AARP set that wants nothing more than for young whippersnappers to get off their damn lawn and for young men to pull up their damn pants, these memes re-imagine Shaft as your grandpa who might have voted for Trump just to spite millennials.

“How TF Do You Milk An Almond? I’m Not Drinking That Sh*t!” reads one meme, accompanied by an image of Samuel L. Jackson looking uncharacteristically old and uncool, with a Wooly Willy-style goatee and mustache combination. Jackson is supposed to be a lovable hard-ass busting the chops of the young people. Instead he looks embarrassed to be associated with the words attributed to his character under the hashtag #Shaftsays.

He’s SAYING what we’re all thinking!

He’s SAYING what we’re all thinking!

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The CRAZY dietary habits of those nutty millennials is similarly the subject of a meme where Shaft threatens, “I’ll Avocado Toast Your Punk Ass.” In another, Shaft threatens, “The Only IPA I Like Is Imma Put Yo A*s Through a Windshield.” Even by the very low standards of this series of memes, this is remarkably lazy and convoluted. It asks us to pretend that Yo doesn’t exist for the very meager payoff of the initials of a style of beer presumably favored by millennials ALMOST matching the initials of a threat to commit physical violence against one of those entitled, avocado toast-loving, IPA and almond milk-chugging participation trophy “winners.”

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The #Shaftsays people stick a format as simple as it is terrible: take something “trendy” that young people are supposed to love (IPAs, Avocado toast, live-streaming) and integrate it into a cranky, sour, generation gap-fueled threat to someone’s behind, like the meme where Shaft threatens “You Should Live Stream Me Putting My Foot Up Your A*s”, which honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would someone live-stream something so embarrassing? 

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As played by Richard Roundtree and immortalized in song by Isaac Hayes, Shaft was the coolest motherfucker in the world, an icon of hipness, arguably THE preeminent Blaxploitation icon. Now the character is being re-conceived, for the purpose of these terrible memes at least, as a cranky old man railing impotently at the crazy ways of the young people. 

Though these witticisms are presented as the wisdom of Shaft they’re clearly coming from Samuel L. Jackson as well, or more specifically, the Samuel L. Jackson character the Pulp Fiction legend plays in film after film, the Samuel L. Jackson’s persona, the one the American people angrily demanded yell “ "I want these motherfucking snakes off the motherfucking plane” in Snakes on a Plane. 

On that level, these memes are an insult to Jackson as well as the character he’s playing. He’s way cooler and less embarrassing than these memes make him seem.

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I didn’t think it was possible, but these memes somehow got me even less excited about the new Shaft. Before, I had zero interest in watching Jackson, whom I love, incidentally, and feel embarrassed for because of these memes, play Shaft again. Now I have less than zero interest in the film, albeit possibly because, as an IPA-loving, live-streaming, avocado toast fiend millennial cartoon, his harsh words of judgment and violence hit a little too close to home. 

Stop drinking that IPA and gobbling that avocado toast and pledge to my Patreon over at https://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace or I’ll put a foot up you a**!