Who is the most memeable figure in British Columbia?
If you ask the creator behind @seabusmemes, one of the most popular B.C.-based meme accounts on Instagram, the unequivocal answer is Premier John Horgan.
The politician "is just so easy to poke fun at," says Daddy SeaBus, the millennial who runs the account anonymously and draws his pseudonym from the humble ferry service between North Vancouver and downtown Vancouver.
One of his more recent posts proclaims, "Wildfires can't start if all the trees are cut down already," with the premier grinning and tapping his head.
Another photo shows Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chatting at an outdoor picnic table, with their lunch Photoshopped to include Kokanee beers and Nude vodka drinks.
"When your boss invites you out for drinks after work, and you're too polite to say no," the meme quips.
The text-and-photo creations are among the hundreds of B.C.-centric jokes featured on SeaBus Memes, which has amassed more than 110,000 followers since launching in 2018.
It leads a wave of local meme accounts that have proliferated in recent years on Instagram, lampooning major institutions such as the University of British Columbia, and more niche subjects like B.C. craft beers and bathrooms in Vancouver. The accounts have also multiplied in smaller communities, satirizing the culture of locales like Whistler and Abbotsford.
Memes have already spread for years on social platforms like Reddit and Facebook. Their endurance shows they aren't just fringe Internet communities — they're part of the popular discourse, says Fenwick McKelvey, an associate professor of communication studies at Concordia University who studies political memes.
"It's important not to necessarily treat memes as a novelty," he said.
"Memes are part and parcel of our everyday life. People subscribe to Instagram accounts that deliver memes. They're part of our culture, our humour and the way people communicate."
VIDEO | Meet B.C.'s top meme creator:
Popularity during pandemic
In the case of SeaBus, the account has gained more prominence during the pandemic due in part to its jokes on the government's COVID-19 response.
One of the account's more memorable jabs came in early April, shortly after Premier John Horgan blamed young people for rising case numbers.
In SeaBus's rendition, Horgan is dressed like an aristocrat, flanked by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"You selfish young people are going to blow this for the rest of us," the premier says. "Now finish bagging my groceries, then go straight home to isolate."
The post drew hundreds of comments and nearly 20,000 likes, and circulated on the Instagram Stories of millennials and gen-Zers— reflecting engagement that has "skyrocketed" since the pandemic, SeaBus says.
"A meme about the pandemic is relatable to everybody," he said. "I try to reflect what I see people saying."
Niche B.C. jokes
SeaBus has also caught the attention of other B.C. meme creators, who cite the craftsmanship in his posts (a typical meme gallery can take up to 20 hours, SeaBus says, while a video can run upwards of 35 hours, all done outside his day job as a graphic designer).
"I see the stuff he puts out and it's so impressive," says the anonymous creator behind @bcferriesmemes, one of the first local meme accounts to launch on Instagram in early 2018.
The page has gained more than 50,000 followers for its hyper-local jokes, most notably its obsessive focus on the ferry service in B.C.
"The manager at B.C. Ferries telling junior staffers that there needs to be an actual boat for people to sail on," reads a recent meme that features artist Drake helping rapper Lil Yachty with a laptop (a joke that pokes fun at the service selling reservations for sailings that never existed).
The account's rapid growth reflects the surprising ways that meme pages can build a following.
The idea for the page originated in the Coastal Cafe, the ferry's cafeteria-style restaurant, as an inside joke between a group of friends, says its creator, who is in his mid-20s.
A few months later, he used the page to like the Instagram posts of people who followed the actual B.C. Ferries account. Within a week, his account had suddenly gained 10,000 followers.
That, in turn, triggered a cascade of new local meme accounts, he says.
"One by one, every small town in British Columbia seemed to get its own niche meme page."
Within half a year, around 20 creators had joined a group chat dubbed the "B.C. Meme Illuminati," says B.C. Ferries Memes, offering a space for them to share ideas and funny stories about their accounts.
Anonymity valuable to creators
Since then, most creators share a common trait: they hide their identities from their followers.
In the case of @datesofyvr, a meme account that satirizes dating in Vancouver, the anonymity allows the account's 31-year-old creator to speak openly about love and sex.
"It's funny because I get asked out a lot on this account," she said. "And in my head I'm like, 'Well, I think you want to go out with the idea of me. You don't actually know who I am.'"
What she presents publicly is self-described sassy, bitter humour, with Onion-style headlines that parody Vancouver culture.
Dates of YVR practises a common tactic among local meme accounts: teasing her followers with hints of her personal life in meme captions and Instagram Stories.
Sometimes, at a brewery with friends, she'll post a mystery hand to the account, or will share videos with her face covered by a Memoji (a 3D avatar).
"People can imagine me however they want to imagine me, and I think that that makes the experience more interesting for them," she said.
SeaBus, who conceals his face with an angel emoji on Instagram Stories, has flirted with the idea of disclosing his real identity, but finds the anonymity key to the account's mystique.
The brand has spun off into a small online merchandise shop, with SeaBus hoping to one day make a full-time living producing memes.
"It would be nice to not have to work my day job and balance this at the same time," he said. "Doing this kind of stuff is what I really care about."