The online equivalent of an inside joke, memes can help keep us connected with our mates, but what happens when a meme turns mean?
‘Four lads in jeans’ know exactly what it’s like to be at the centre of a viral meme, so we caught up with them to hear how the joke turned sour and why they’re now the faces of a sea shanty remix that’s raising cash for calm.
When Alex, Jamie, Kevin and Connor headed for a pre-lockdown night out in Birmingham back in 2019, little did they know that a photo of them would shoot them to internet fame. You’ve probably seen the countless memes charting their tightly-fitting trousers, but what nobody saw coming was how quickfire quips could turn into trolling and abuse that lasted over a year.
While jokes started off about their jeans, things quickly got personal. The foursome were cyberbullied, pranked and threatened as a result, enduring a pretty hellish few months. From being judged on their intelligence to being accused of racism, lots of assumptions were made about the ‘lads’ because of how they looked and dressed.
A survey showed how toxic stereotypes of men can be, with 46% of men under 35 viewing traditional stereotypes of masculinity such as being ‘always strong’ or ‘a lad’ as detrimental and dangerous. The friendship group are now beginning to open up about how the relentless comments took a toll on their mental wellbeing. Kevin says:
“People look at our photo and see four stereotypical lads. I think the people who gave us abuse thought we would just take it on the chin and move on, without thinking what effect these comments have on someone’s mental health.”