Every now and again, a meme emerges from the online inferno to bless users with a much-needed reality check. As things continue to get crazier out there, and ideological networks born online, and completely untethered from reality, continue to assert themselves in real life (think: trans), anxiety can stir in even the most temperate of observers. “Touch grass,” a meme born this year on Twitter, is not only a good way of responding to internet ideologues consumed by the demons of unreality, it is also sage advice for all social technology addicts, which is to say, most of us.
The tactical utility of “touch grass” is multifaceted. First of all, the phrase is simple. Two words, usually levied in response to some verbose, delusional political rant. The staccato of “touch grass” against bluster creates a sense of incongruity, which is above all humorous. Subversive humor takes the sails out of its target. Our opponent will not (will never) be convinced, but this kind of meme is more likely to convince the audience, which in performative disputes is really the point.
“Touch grass” is abrupt by its cadence, but it is also an abrupt change of subject. The combination of simplicity of phrase and diversionary meaning initially throws the enemy of his course. By ripping the rug from under his feet, we undermine the absurd confidence of the pontificating bluecheck or whomever seethes on the other side of the screen. We also undermine his relative, imagined social power. “Touch grass” is an imperative statement. Its use implicitly suggests the user has some level of authority over the target, matched only by “bless your heart” in its condescending valence. The shame festers.
Finally, all who are willing to deploy “touch grass” in the forever war against the enemies of humanity must be equally willing to take the advice themselves, not least because he who holds firmly to the truth is less likely to emotionally implode. The all against all psychological warfare that we denizens of Twitter facilitate, knowingly or not, has the tendency of making us forget what’s real, what’s true, what’s beautiful and good. The fight is noble, and it is important, but it is not near everything. Lest we become the precise negative image of our opposition, we should touch grass, literally. We should go outside.
On Sunday, as I lay on a tartan in a grassy park with the late May sun beating down my vitamin D deficiency, it seemed my heart rate slowed to match the rhythm of the wind bending the surrounding trees. The beautiful simplicity of the moment struck me, and the thought crossed my mind: I may never prevent mentally ill, extremely online, essentially predatory biological males from dominating female spaces in which my daughter might have, in another world, thrived. Sports. Schools. Sororities. Whatever. She will instead know the feeling of soft grass beneath her feet, wind on her face, and the majestic quiet of the woods in spite of the surrounding chaos. I know I must protect her, but I must not focus so sharply on our enemies that I fail to show her what is good in life (besides crushing them, seeing them driven before us, and hearing the lamentations of the transwomen, of course).
The war must still be fought. But peace is there if you seek it.