BTV does not = VT: What an Internet meme tells us about Vermont

In recent weeks, the Internet has been consumed with the latest meme. Inevitably, it has finally arrived here in Vermont.

For those readers less familiar with web jargon, a meme is a term used to describe a “concept that spreads via the Internet” (source: Wikipedia). It is often a cultural reference of some sort that is played out in numerous iterations by users. For a primer, visit knowyourmeme.com.

You might have seen one and not even noticed. Do you know Hipster Ariel? Have you seen the Socially Awkward Penguin? Have you ever been Rick Roll’d? (Well, you have now).

The latest meme to go viral is “Shit People Say.” I’ll get to the Vermont connection in a moment, but first a little background.

This meme started last summer with “Shit Girls Say,” a popular Twitter feed and series of YouTube videos that parodies the silly things women are sometimes guilty of saying. (Some gems have included “First of all, ew,” “Can I put this in your pocket?,” “I hate this mirror.”)

The intended result is for the viewer to relate — “I totally know a girl like that!” or “That’s so me!” The secondary result (and this is how memes work) is joining in either by contributing or reappropriating.

Subsequently, the Internet has produced a number of variations on the original theme. We have seen “Shit Guys Say” “Shit Christians say to Jews,” and my favorite, “Shit Nobody Says” — “I completely understand my taxes!,” “These CSI shows are all so different!”

Superficially, this meme is good for a laugh, but beneath the surface it gets complicated. I won’t go into the politics of the so-called “friendly prejudice” at play here, but it is, indeed, abundantly present. Playing with stereotypes of gender, race, sexuality and religion is a minefield, and this meme runs right through it. Read a good analysis here.

The takeaway here? Read and view with caution, and understand what exactly is at play here. (I’m not brushing the issue under the rug, but I could devote an entire column or two just to this subject.)

Now back to Vermont.

When the meme arrived in the Green Mountain State this week in the form of “Shit Vermonters Say” (#shitvterssay) the local Twittersphere — such that it is — seized upon it with glee. (Seven Days gave the story some coverage on their blog.)

Unfortunately, since about 98 percent of all Twitter users reside in Burlington, the conversation was predominantly Queen City-centric with talk of running marathons, seeing members of Phish in Radio Bean and waiting in line at Penny Cluse.

As the tweets rolled in, the cultural gulf between Burlington and the rest of the state was apparent: “I play in the Monday/Thursday kickball league,” “Paper or plastic? I brought my own,” “Is this free-range chicken?”

Jeezum crow!

This version of Vermont sounded like a sketch from “Portlandia.”

This sketch, in particular.

Now, I love Burlington — I lived there for two years — but growing up in Rutland and not being a college transplant, I knew that the rest of Vermont not only existed, but was vastly different than New England’s bohemian west coast. Like I said BTV is great, but the Burlington experience is not the Vermont experience.

Digging deeper, however, some Vermont truisms did indeed began to surface: “You can’t get there from here” (obviously), “I’m goin’ accrost town,” “Hard sayin’ not knowin,’” “Cold enough for ya?”, and of course, “Jeezum crow.” Other popular themes centered on maple syrup, hunting and flatlander contempt/bemusement.

Interestingly, only one tweet that I saw noted Vermonters’ soft Ts — “Hunnington (not Huntington) Gorge” — which, I think, is one of Vermonters’ most distinctive verbal traits.

While “Shit Vermonters Say” is cause for some debate, it is hardly as complicated or potentially hurtful as many of the other “Shit People Say” memes. Ultimately, Vermont’s exercise was good fun and the opportunity for all of us playing to consider our state identity and have a good-hearted laugh at those “crunchy granolas” up there in Burlington — now, that’s some #ShitOldTimeVTersSay.

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