Can we stop with the Webb Telescope memes?

Pictured: Webb’s First Deep Field is galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 – https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2022/nasa-s-webb-delivers-deepest-infrared-image-of-universe-yet

Polar opposite uses of technology this week have me wondering why so many people prefer navel-gazing over learning about what’s up in the universe.

Memes derived from the James Webb Telescope photographs have stirred a strong emotion in me: disgust. I’m guessing that’s the opposite of what their creators and spreaders are seemingly going for. You’ve seen a bunch of these this week, right? Probably more often than you’ve seen shared the images themselves or discussion on what they’ve captured. It’s all petty humor—the fuel of most memes—like comparing an image to the patterns on countertops or superimposing a prone Gritty, the methed-out Philadelphia Flyers mascot, over a spectacular star-forming region in the Carina Nebula.

Star Wars space veteran Mark Hamill even shared one, which fans quickly called out because he didn’t use the era-appropriate Death Star. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but his tweet is bad as the rest. The Webb Telescope images should be generating discourse with the public but not on which Death Star Hamill used in his meme, which currently has racked up 206.1k likes on Twitter.

Pasting punchlines on images of celestial frontiers that have been speculated about for centuries and brilliant minds have spent lifetimes attempting to see and share with humanity for a dopamine hit to the dome when you rack up a few likes is such typical, myopic human behavior. It’s the opposite of what the images represent. Ptolemy’s rolling in his grave while the masses eat bread at the circus. Memes like these spit in the face of science, exploration, and wonder, gatekeeping curiosity with every eye they meet. You can’t call them childish, because they are antithetical to the wonder that the expanse of space holds for a child. They are all too characteristic of American adulthood in the Digital Age.

Each one of these memes you make or share or see takes away a chance to share the wonder of these scientific and technological advances in space exploration with another person. They take incredible news of discovery and kick them around in the empty tin cans of social media in which the masses float. Yes, Major Tom, Planet Earth is blue. As in sad.  

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